Enjoy Malaysian delights the healthy way!

Pictures by Saw Siow Feng
Pictures by Saw Siow Feng

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PETALING JAYA, May 4 ― Goo Chui Hoong believes that eating healthy doesn’t have to be stressful. As a dietician with more than a decade of working experience in the UK and the co-author of Food for Your Eyes (awarded the Gourmand Award for Best Health Cookbook in the World 2012), it’s safe to say that she knows something about the subject.

In her latest cookbook, Lite Malaysian Favourites (the first in the MPH Masterclass Kitchens series), Goo shows that it’s even possible to enjoy local Malaysian dishes, whether at hawker stalls or at home, in a healthy manner.

How can we start eating healthy?

Because I’m a dietician, I wanted to write a healthy eating book from the perspective of somebody imparting knowledge. I realise everybody knows about healthy eating but what they may not have a good grasp of is how to do it, how to eat healthy.

Many people want to eat healthy but they feel it’s either a “do it completely” or “don’t do it at all” sort of situation. I’m being realistic here; I don’t expect readers to be able to eat healthy every single meal. What I’m sharing are the healthy options whether they are eating out at hawker stalls or cooking at home.

I’m a strong believer in recipe modification so that we may still enjoy our favourite foods. Let’s say a recipe calls for chicken. We can make a healthier choice if we understand the difference between different cuts of meat, and whether it’s with or without skin. How about when you cut back by a teaspoon of fat? Small changes like these add up over time. It’s empowering people so they can make the right decisions for their lifestyles.

Do diets help?

It’s more of a lifestyle change than a diet. I remember conversations I’ve had with friends who wanted to follow a raw diet or a liquid diet ― there are so many diets out there! But when I look at the theory behind it, it’s all about your calorie intake. So you don’t have to follow a very strict diet.

You can still have what you’re eating but it’s about reducing the portions. Sometimes we may be unsure what a portion or serving is so I have photographs in my book to show how much one serving of vegetables or bread is.

Measurement is important but you don’t want people to bring a weighing scale along with them when they are eating outside. You want them to be able to look at the food and know how many servings they are having.

Is this confusion due to the Americanisation of food portions, such as super-sized meals?

American portions are huge, and I guess the more affluent a society is, the more choices we have. Today we have three courses followed by dessert. Whereas previously we may only have a meal a day!

It’s about making the right food choices and portion control. There’s no such thing as a no-no food. The recipes I’ve chosen are commonly available dishes that Malaysians love, such as nasi lemak, that I’ve modified so you can make these healthier when you prepare them at home.

When you are eating outside then you can choose healthier options. What I’m propagating here is for people to eat healthy most of the time. So if you are eating healthy 5-6 days out of a week, that’s fine. Then weekends when you catch up with friends, you don’t have to be the odd one out and eat something completely different. You can actually join in and eat what everyone else is eating.

If you are eating something very unhealthy, you can just reduce the portions. It’s all these negative perceptions of healthy eating that it’s not tasty or expensive or uncool that we need to change. I feel my background as a dietician can give me an edge in simplifying all these information.

When I read the book, the impression I got was that healthy eating isn’t about deprivation but simply applying a lot of common sense.

Yes, that’s right. Take my vegetable chips recipe. Most people assume that you have to deep-fry to get chips and therefore it’s unhealthy. The change can be as simple as using a different cooking method like roasting so you still have lovely, crispy chips but it’s healthier.

Therefore if you have a craving for foods like chips, don’t deprive yourself. Eat healthy most of the time, and when you do have chips, there are ways to make it healthier too. Enjoy your food.

What about readers with kids? Kids can be very choosy. What can their parents do?

That’s absolutely true. My husband and I have three children myself ― two girls and one boy. Their ages between two and nine years old, so I understand how they can be very selective about what they eat.

I believe that the parents themselves must set an example by eating healthy. If their children don’t like a particular food, don’t be discouraged. What I’ve learned from my children is to try again or try cooking it differently. Encourage your children to be in the kitchen with you, to help you prepare the food. They taste the food you are making together.

By giving them the opportunity to explore to learn more about different foods, you engage them and get them interested about healthy eating from an early age.

What about those with busy careers who work from early morning till late at night?

Well, that’s when food choices are crucial. Busy people can opt for healthier options during the weekdays when they are eating outside and in a rush. Then, during the weekends, they can make an effort to cook at home.

Naturally it’s healthier eating at home because you have a greater control over the ingredients you use and how you cook them, e.g. how much oil you are using, and choosing to stir-fry and roast instead of deep-frying.

However, that’s not to say eating outside has to be unhealthy. Even at the hawker centre, you can opt for boiled or soupy foods over the fried stuff all the time. Ask for extra portions of vegetables. You don’t have to spend a bundle at a fancy “health food” restaurant to eat healthy.

If there is one thing your readers can do to make the change, what would it be?

I would say eating regularly. It doesn’t even have to be three square meals a day. Some people get by with two meals; others need three meals and snacks in between. But by having a regular eating schedule, you can actually plan ahead what you are going to eat and avoid bingeing.

Never go shopping for food when you’re hungry, for example. Once I went to the supermarket on an empty stomach and

I bought all sorts of unhealthy treats on a whim! Yes, dieticians are human too!

That is why I’ve found planning ahead to eat regular meals makes it easier to start eating healthy without the stress.

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