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Hawker centre habits that hurt your health

Watch your intake of rice, chilli and sweets

Hawker food is cheap and good. And it is getting healthier, with stalls offering reduced-calorie options and better grains and oils.

But there are still diehard habits that may be derailing your weight loss and wellness goals.

Ms Chan Ya Ling, a dietitian at Sengkang General Hospital, points out the best ways to change these.

Eating too many carbs in one meal

One serving of carbohydrates is roughly half a bowl of rice, half a bowl of noodles, two slices of bread, a large potato, or two pieces of small chapatis.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends five to seven servings of carbs for healthy adults a day - this should be spread out evenly, and not consumed in one sitting, ensuring that your carb intake is adequately distributed across the day.

Instead of fearing carbs or avoiding them completely, opt for healthier options like brown rice, bee hoon and whole grains.

Using too much chilli

You might be shocked to hear that your heaping tablespoon of chilli contains a whole lot of sodium - one serving of sambal belacan has 227mg, while a serving of chicken rice chilli contains 280mg.

When chicken rice already contains about 1,200mg of sodium, that is a lot of salt.

HPB recommends no more than 2,000mg of sodium a day. This means that for a meal, you should not have more than six teaspoons (13g) of chicken rice chilli or sambal chilli, which is 25 per cent and 33 per cent of your daily sodium recommendation respectively.

Yes, chilli has been said to contain many health benefits including an increased metabolism, as capsaicin has been found to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation under tightly controlled clinical trials.

Unfortunately, research does not support a role for capsaicin in weight management as its long-term effectiveness is unclear. Consuming high dosages of capsaicin might also lead to unpleasant side effects such as burning pain in the stomach after ingestion and in the anal cavity when you hit the loo.

Thinking that all mixed rice dishes are healthy

Your choices at your favourite mixed rice stall can make or break your diet.

A portion of eggplant with gravy, for example, contains 171 calories and a whopping 16g of fat. Curry chicken is worse at 322 calories and 20g fat, and fried fish comes in at 392 calories and 22g total fat.

Aim to select mixed rice dishes cooked using healthier methods such as steaming, stir-frying and grilling. Some examples include steamed eggs, stir-fried leafy greens and tofu. Try your best to limit dishes that are fried or deep-fried and dishes laden with curry or gravy.

It is best to opt for two portions of vegetables and one portion of meat. Choose brown rice if possible and skip the gravy.

Indulging in too many desserts

Kaya waffles, chendol and a can of soft drink all contain seven teaspoons of sugar.

A small bowl of chendol can set you back anywhere between 300 and 600 calories.

Ice kacang falls in a slightly lower window of 200 to 500 calories but is still sugar-rich.

As the recommended calorie intake for the average Asian woman is between 1,800 and 2,000, a 500 calorie dessert is a big chunk of it.

The goal here is to limit your total intake of added sugars not just from desserts, but from your entire diet.

HPB recommends no more than eight to 11 teaspoons of added sugars a day.

Added sugars can be found in a variety of food and beverages such as sugary drinks, fruit juice, spreads and processed foods. They can be easily consumed in large amounts in short periods of time, so be mindful of how much you take in per day.

Instead of blowing all your sugar on an unhealthy treat, go for slightly healthier options like unsweetened beancurd pudding or a low-fat yogurt which has two teaspoons of sugar.

For drinks, just stick to water or unsweetened versions of coffee, soya bean milk or barley.

This article first appeared in Shape (www.shape.com.sg)

Food & Drink