During the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appealed to Singaporeans to watch their diets to curb mounting health conditions such as diabetes.
He urged Singaporeans to choose healthier dishes such as yong tau foo or fish soup if they eat out, or healthier alternatives with less oil, sugar and salt that some hawkers offer.
But the fact remains that most hawker dishes are unhealthy, says Ms Bibi Chia, a principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
She says a healthy meal should contain less than 500 calories, be low in fat, sugar and salt and high in nutrients such as calcium and dietary fibre and minerals such as iron and zinc.
Most hawker dishes do not make the grade as they contain high amounts of fat and salt and little vegetables.
“Char kway teow is cooked the same way as decades ago, even after years of public healthy-eating education,” Ms Chia says.
Diners should take charge of their diets instead of depending on hawkers to change their recipes, she adds.
One way is to plan what you want to eat in advance, which is easy because people are familiar with the food options in the hawker centres near their homes and offices.
“Diners tend to give in to temptation to order something unhealthy when they are hungry,” she says.
One can also eat less by sharing food, especially unhealthy dishes.
“Share a plate of fried noodles with someone and order something healthy, like a bowl of fish soup, to share,” she suggests.
She adds that diners need to be persistent in asking that their food be cooked with less oil and salt and with more greens.
“Just treat it as if you are ordering food in a restaurant, where it is the norm to customise food orders,” she says. “You just have to do it as it is your health you are talking about.”