The typical Malaysian diet is not very healthy, but we can change that gradually


Have you ever paused to consider whether you eat to live or live to eat?

In the food paradise that is Malaysia, it would be no big surprise if the answer is that you live to eat.

As such, it can be tremendously difficult to change one’s eating habits, especially if you are going against the grain of the typical, rather unhealthy Malaysian diet.

For example, although we should consume as little sugar and salt as possible, according to the Malaysian Food Pyramid, sugar, condensed milk (which contains 54g of sugar in every 100g of condensed milk) and soy sauce (which contains salt) are among the top 10 food items Malaysians consume every day.

Sugar, in fact, is the second most consumed food in our daily diet. (See Our top 10 foods below)

Says dietician Goo Chui Hoong: “Sugar is a source of empty calories, no matter if it’s white, brown or palm. As a nation, we should aim to gradually reduce our intake of sugar.”

Overall, she finds that the majority of items on the list are not healthy.

For example, white rice and condensed milk/creamer are sources of refined carbohydrates that can be completely eliminated from our diets and replaced with wholegrain rice and low-fat milk, she says.

Nutrition Society of Malaysia council member Dr Wong Jyh Eiin adds that: “Food flavour enhancers, i.e. sugar, soy sauces and condiments (such as sambal, black pepper and belacan), are common features of local diets and discretionary sources of calories, sugar, salt and fat.”

The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Nutritional Sciences Programme senior lecturer adds: “Fruits are not featured in the top 10 list, signifying that we are really not consuming enough.

“The 2010 Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommends that we eat at least five servings (approximately 400g) of fruits and vegetables every day.”

The 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey found that 94% of Malaysians do not eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

This is why the Health Ministry is promoting the Malaysian Healthy Plate concept, where we are encouraged to fill a quarter of our plate with carbohydrates, a quarter with protein and half with vegetables and/or fruit, at every meal (#sukusukuseparuh or #quarterquarterhalf).

Fruits and vegetables are important in our diet as they do not only provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre, but also help prevent heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

As part of our Start The Year Right series, we also spoke to four Malaysians who made a healthier change to their diet for various reasons. Here are the stories:

  • Finding the right motivation to change their diet for the better
  • Going vegetarian for the love of god and animals

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