6 healthy hawker centre hacks

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Singapore's hawker centres are unbeatable when it comes to fast, affordable and hearty comfort food. But let's face it — most hawker centre dishes are quite unhealthy, being high in saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories.

Most dishes are very high in starch and carbohydrates too, and usually heavily doused in grease, sauce or curry.

Did you know that fried kway teow with cockles and lard can set you back 745 calories? Or that a nasi biryani is a whopping 756 calorie dish? But don't worry.

You can eat healthier without giving up your hawker centre indulgences all together. Just look out for food stalls displaying the Healthier Dining Programme (HDP) decal for healthier options.

Good news: HPB has already identified at least 63 dishes under 500 calories, including beef noodle soup and mee soto.

Here are our six easiest to follow hacks to make your next visit to a hawker centre a healthier one:

1. Look for stalls with the 'Healthier Choice' logo for less oil and less salt

Opt for stalls that cook with healthier oils and choose healthier dishes such as yong tau foo or economical rice, where you can customise your meal to a large extent.

Also look out for stalls that display labels such as "lower in calories" for providing meals up to 500 calories each and "We serve wholegrain options" for incorporating wholegrain noodles, rice and bread in their food.

2. Cut out the sugar

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Did you know that some of your favourite dishes may contain more sugar than you would expect? And it's not just sugary drinks and desserts with their syrups, durian paste and other toppings.

Evaporated milk has more than three times the calories of full cream milk: chilli sauce and ketchup are laden with sugar: carrot cake has three tablespoons of sugar; tauhu goreng has almost six, while mee siam comes in at an unbelievable 10 spoons of sugar in one serving.

3. Steamed over fried

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You've heard this one before. Ideal cooking methods include steaming, grilling, roasting, braising, baking or stir-frying instead of deep-frying.

Even then, remove all visible fat and skin from meat before consuming, replace chicken thighs with chicken breasts, and stay away from processed foods and pork lard too.

Also watch out for mock meat, as it contains a lot of calories and sodium and not much nutrition.

4. Cut down on coconut milk, evaporated milk, curries and gravy

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Generally, sauces, gravy and curry are very high in calories, salt and sugar. When possible, avoid adding gravy or curry directly over rice, and have it on the side to control the amount you consume. Ditto for dipping sauces.

5. Sneak in more vegetables and fruit

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Take every opportunity to add more nutrients and natural fibre. Add more veggies and fruits for fewer calories per bite, and also as a much healthier way to cut down the amount of carbs that you may typically consume.

6. Wholegrains, wholegrains, wholegrains

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Wholegrains contain fibre, are an important source of nutrients like zinc, magnesium and vitamin B, and provide bulk that helps us feel fuller for longer.

Wholegrains also lower our glycaemic index, which in turn reduces our risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Opt for brown rice over white rice, chapati over prata, and teach yourself to love wholemeal pasta, whole wheat ban mian, and brown rice bee hoon.

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.