As we gear up for Hari Raya, I can already feel my tummy rumbling with excitement for all the mouth-watering dishes that await me. But this year, my mother has thrown my family a curveball by suggesting a healthier approach to our traditional spread.
“Brown rice instead of white rice? Light coconut milk? Olive oil? What's next, tofu rendang?" I joked, raising an eyebrow at my father. But we still decided to give it a shot and see if healthy could be just as delicious.
My mother did her research and found some great tips on staying fit during the festive season from Mount Elizabeth Hospitals. "I don't want us to suffer any health consequences as we grow older," she explained. And who can argue with that?
Finding the right balance
But how could we still enjoy the perfect balance of flavour and nutrition? That's when I reached out to Jaclyn Reutens, a dietitian at Aptima Nutrition, for some advice.
Reutens, who has two decades of experience in nutrition, stressed that portion control is key. "Gone are the days when we stuff ourselves with our ‘once-a-year foods'," she said. "Why do we always eat as though there is no tomorrow?" Overeating can lead to heartburn, indigestion, weight gain, high blood pressure, and spiked insulin levels, she warned.
To make healthier versions of traditional dishes like rendang or nasi lemak, Reutens suggested swapping out unhealthy ingredients.
"Excessive intakes of saturated fat (like coconut milk, butter and palm oil) can increase cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes," she explained.
Instead, Reutens suggested using unsaturated fats like canola, sunflower, soybean, or peanut oils, as well as reduced-fat coconut milk or low-fat milk/yogurt, to achieve the same creamy texture. And by reducing deep-frying and opting for stir-frying, air-frying, or baking, we could achieve that crispy texture with a lot less fat.
Reutens also reminded us that Malay-style dishes are already heavily flavoured with natural and fresh ingredients used in the spice paste or rempah. And salt is just an enhancer, so it can be reduced. Other sauces like soy sauce and oyster sauce can also be reduced by 30 to 50 per cent without sacrificing flavour.
And let's not forget about the sweets such as kuih lapis, dodol, tapak kuda, pineapple tarts! Kuih raya is usually made with various sugars, so Reutens suggested using half the amount of sugar and experimenting with artificial sweeteners like stevia to reduce calorie intake by 50 per cent.
As my family plans to make these small adjustments based on Reutens' advice, I can't wait to see how it turns out. Who knows, maybe we'll even start a new tradition of enjoying a healthy and delicious Hari Raya feast. After all, good health is always in season!
5 tips from Dietitian Jaclyn Reutens for enjoying festive foods without compromising a balanced diet
Pace yourself: Take your time and savour each bite. At each house visit, choose your favourite food and take a reasonable amount to enjoy. Don't go back for seconds.
Take vegetables if available: Fibre is often forgotten during the festivities. Opt for the vegetable dishes and try to get a good mix of colours.
Stay hydrated: Bring your own water bottle and drink one bottle of water at each house. Fill up your bottle every time. Being dehydrated can lead to overeating.
Take less gravy and sauces: Gravy and sauces can be high in fat and calories. Try to take smaller amounts or avoid them altogether.
Take smaller portions of carb-heavy foods: Foods like white rice, nasi goreng, and mee goreng are often carb-heavy. Take smaller portions to make room for other dishes and to avoid overeating.
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