A lot of people ask me if there is a way to eat out healthily while still losing fat, and maybe even achieving a six pack. My answer is yes and no. Yes, you can eat out healthily but no, you can’t lose much fat if you eat out for every meal, every day.
In this article, I will share some tips on how to eat out healthily, what local food options you can go for and offer some insights on hidden ingredients that you may not know about. (PS: I used to be a cook when I was younger, spending many hours in the coffeeshop, so I know what exactly what the cooks put in their food.
Eating out can be healthy and beneficial to the body but due to the high sodium content, it causes unnecessary inflammation in your body. This inflammation causes you to ‘bloat’ and/or feel ‘bloated’. I have tried eating out as healthily as possible but it hindered me in achieving the physique that I wanted. I was once sponsored by a food company and I took this chance to experiment. I ate as healthy as possible – no gravy and sauces – but I just could not get the results I desired. I recorded what I ate in a notebook and I figured out that it was the seasoning and sodium which caused me to bloat. Hardly any food companies in Singapore will sell you plain meals plus not many people like to eat plain food anyway. Meat, vegetables or even rice, that you find when eating out are somewhat seasoned. How heavily seasoned? We don’t really know.
I know a lot of you don’t have the time to cook and pack food for your day but trust me, that is the only sure way to get results – six packs, lose fat etc. Why? Because you know exactly what you put in your food. No hidden ingredients. Furthermore, you will save a lot of money if you cook say 2 meals, compared to a $10 healthy meal outside.
If you are eating out constantly and living a lifestyle where you lack the time to cook for yourself, below is a suggested list of local foods that can be made healthier after many years of experimenting.
1. Chicken/Duck Rice
Ask for white rice (instead of the usual chicken rice) and breast meat without any soy sauce or gravy. This way, you’ll avoid hidden, unhealthy ingredients like Monosodium glutamate (MSG), vegetable oil and sesame oil. Be aware that the meat still contain unknown seasoning.
2. Stir-fry Dishes (Zi Char)
Commonly known as Zi Char in Hokkien where you order a few dishes to be shared among 2 or more people, accompanied by white rice. Zi Char is known for its MSG content and oil-heavy dishes. Avoid ordering deep-fried items if possible and drink lots of water after.
3. Chinese Mixed Rice
Choose meats that are not fried and try avoiding gravy-heavy dishes like curry chicken. If need be, wash away the gravy before consuming the food. (This might sound ridiculous but this was exactly what I did when I went for a friend’s wedding. I took the beef rendang and went to the back to wash off the rendang. Hidden ingredients to take note include MSG, sugar and starch.
4. Fish Soup, Yong Tau Foo Soup, Ban Mian Soup, Fishball / Wanton Noodles
A lot of people think that soup is the healthiest choice. I totally disagree. It contains unknown amounts of sugar, sodium, and MSG. Fish, in general, is healthy but due to the way it is prepared, it is not healthy (in my opinion). Yong Tau Foo is not quite healthy as well, if you ask me. Majority of the ingredients are fried and made up of starch. E.g. Fish meat stuffed in green chilli. Most Ban Mian stalls use pork bones, ikan bilis and soybeans. Some stalls also use sesame oil. My advice for all soups, is to drink as little as possible. Do not drink them like tonic water.
5. Hokkien Mee (Hidden ingredients: MSG, starch, sugar)
The stock is mainly cooked using soy beans, ikan bilis and pork bones. That’s where the taste and aroma comes from. To add a finishing touch, the dish is tossed with pork lard to make it extra tasty. Also, the noodles are actually stir-fried before the stock is poured over, meaning extra oil. It would be nice to have just a little soup on your mee, still enjoying every bite of it.
6. Char Kway Teow (Hidden ingredient: MSG)
The main thing you want to avoid is the dark soy sauce (you can Google about the effects of soy and how it is harmful to your body if taken too frequently). You can actually have your char kway teow without any dark sauce. Apart from the copious vegetable oil they put in it, some stalls add pork lard for extra taste too. You can ask for less oil and no pork lard.
7. Fried Carrot Cake (Chai Tow Kway) (Hidden ingredients: MSG, vegetable oil)
Carrot cake contains a lot of vegetable oil and it is made from rice flour and tapioca flour. Some stalls add pork lard for extra taste too. So ask for less oil and no pork lard to avoid extra calories and fat.
8. Oyster Omelette (Orh Luak) (Hidden ingredients: MSG, vegetable oil)
This dish contains potato starch (carb-heavy) and is fried with lots of oil and flavoured with fish sauce. Eat this once in a blue moon.
9. Mee Rebus, Mee Siam, Mee Soto (Hidden ingredients: MSG, sugar, starch)
Ask for less gravy, preferably just a scoop. And choose mee hoon over yellow mee. Yellow mee contains wheat but mee hoon and kuay tiao comes from rice source.
10. Nasi Padang
A lot of dishes contain thick gravy and curry so always tell the seller not to give you any gravy as they will always drench your rice with gravy. Avoid fried dishes as much as possible.
11. Ayam / Ikan Penyat / Baka
First of all, most Ayam Penyat are fried. So if you can find grilled ones, that’s much better. Try asking for no topping sauce. Eat it plain. Trust me, the meat already has its own seasoning. Ask for more cabbage and cucumber as cabbage helps in breaking down the meat and cucumber is a good, natural diuretic.
Try to eat satay without the peanut sauce. You will call me mad but well, that is my style. When I eat out, I can be mad. I will do things which people don’t usually do just to maintain my physical look. The peanut sauce may contain unknown amounts of sodium, sugar and starch. Nowadays, satay in food centres are not made of 100% meat. They are a mixture of flour, marinate and meat. More of flour than meat.
13. Roti Prata
I’m not sure if you ever stand in front of the guy who is making you prata and see how much oil he drenched onto your prata. Try to ask for no oil as the hot pan already has oil on it. I’ve read somewhere that the plantar they used to make prata is actually good for you to a certain extent. You can read more on that.
14. Nasi Briyani (Hidden ingredients: Sugar, MSG and sodium in the gravy)
Extremely dense in carbohydrates and protein content. I would recommend not eating this everyday or often. The spices are really good for your body once in awhile.
15. Western Food
I used to work in a western food chain! I know exactly how chicken chop, fried chicken and fish and chips are prepared. Frozen chicken is being dumped straight into the fryer. Yes. You didn’t read wrongly. If you have ever ordered any mussels spaghetti, those mussels are also fried frozen. Chicken chops are prepared in bulk with lots of marinade (hidden ingredients alert!) and that’s why they are not really delicious. MSG and soybean sauce are used.
Salads are an overrated ‘health food’ that many people opt for every single day. Most don’t know that it is the side meats and sauces which sabotage this healthy choice. You have plain salad and but with barbequed chicken. Hmm? Finally, Japanese sesame sauce? Sounds familiar? Stay away from seasoned meat and sauces. I wouldn’t recommend balsamic vinegar either because some taste so sweet that it seems that the stall added sugar. Same goes for olive oil as some do taste sweet.
17. Eggs and Toast
Once in a while is ok but I wouldn’t recommend daily intake as bread contains gluten which can make you feel ‘bloated’ all the time. Get the simplest toast (e.g. with peanut butter only) possible instead of the fanciful ones with kaya, butter etc.
18. Fruits, Bubble Tea, Canned Drinks, Other Forms Of Desert.
These can be tricky to avoid so have them only once in awhile. I do indulge in them too! Just don’t go overboard. The best time, in my opinion, to take sugary stuff is first thing in the morning. Why? Because your body has fasted for the past 7 hours and the sugar can be helpful instead of harmful to your body.
There is actually another way to eat local foods without getting the MSG and unknown amounts of salt, sugar and starch. That is – cook it by yourself! On most weekends, I do have a home-cooked version of local food. Yes. Just YouTube and you got tons of videos showing you how to, step by step!
To conclude, I wish you good health and do try eating wisely. For the best results though, I would recommend eating out only once in awhile and prepping quick and simple meals (like steamed food) for yourself regularly.
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