19 August 2019
With a food scene as rich as ours, it isn’t difficult to find a breakfast you would enjoy in Singapore. From a hearty bowl of noodles to grab-and-go kaya toast, the variety of options available will cheer up even the grumpiest early riser. While delicious, some of these breakfast choices might err a little on the unhealthy side. Eating a healthy breakfast comes with many health benefits, such as refueling your body with nutrients, improving cognitive function and aiding weight loss throughout the day. Here are some tips and tricks to make popular local breakfasts healthier.
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Why is it important to have a healthy breakfast?
For all meals, you have to choose your foods carefully to maintain a healthy diet and breakfast is no exception. A healthy breakfast is one that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. A variety of vitamins can be found in different types of fruits and they are also excellent sources of antioxidants. Whole-grain bread or oats are usually consumed for fibre, which is what keeps you full. Whole eggs (hard-boiled!) are an excellent source of protein, with a non-meat alternative being peanut butter. Low-fat or skim milk is great for calcium, which is needed to keep our bones strong. Eating healthy is about getting all the right nutrients, but that doesn’t mean no fats. Avocado is an excellent source of healthy fat and it contains other good nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin B.
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It might be tempting to skip breakfast to snooze for a couple more minutes due to the morning rush. However, that extra half an hour of sleep will not give you the energy that a healthy breakfast can provide. Skipping breakfast would disrupt your body’s rhythm of eating and sleeping. When you wake up, your blood sugar is low, which would lead to your brain and muscles not being unable to work at their best and you’ll end up feeling sluggish.
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It is found that eating breakfast improves cognitive functions like memory, concentration, problem-solving skills and creativity. Blood glucose levels have a direct impact on cognitive function. By replenishing your body with a high-quality breakfast, glucose levels will rise to an optimal range that maximises cognitive function. A decline in cognitive function happens when blood glucose levels are low and you experience hunger and fatigue. However, a low-quality breakfast, which is high in fat and sugar, would lead to less efficiency due to excessive fullness and compensatory food intake. Your mornings would be much more productive after having a wholesome breakfast.
Breakfast foods such as Greek yogurt also kick-starts your metabolism for the rest of the day. On top of that, research has found that people who eat breakfast daily have a 35-50% lower risk of obesity and diabetes than those who do not.
Tuna sandwich set instead of kaya toast set
Kaya and butter on fluffy white toast, soft-boiled eggs and a cup of coffee is the quintessential Singaporean breakfast. This dish is as iconic as much as it is sinful. The process of making white bread strips it of bran and germ, which contains vitamins, minerals and fibre. Not only is there a lack of nutrients in the dish, the slab of butter layered onto creamy kaya is full of saturated fat, which is likely to lead you to a sugar high (and sugar crash). Soft-boiled eggs contain less oil and fat compared to fried eggs, and boiling helps retain most of the nutrients in the egg. However, they come hand-in-hand with soy sauce, which is high in sodium. This increases the risk of high blood pressure.
Ask for less or no butter on top of the toast, or simply scrape it off when you get the toast for complete control over quantity. With soy sauce, a little goes a long way. Be careful to limit the amount of soy sauce added to the soft-boiled eggs to avoid consuming too much sodium. If you’re not dead-set on kaya toast, try having a tuna sandwich instead, preferably with multi-grain toast. Tuna is a super food that is a superb source of high quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits which include helping with heart disease, improving the immune system and strengthening the bones. If the sandwich is being made on the spot, go without butter as tuna filling is usually mixed with mayonnaise, which already contains saturated fat.
Dosa with lentil curry instead of prata and curry
Whether you’re on team sugar or team curry, prata is a go-to breakfast for many Singaporeans. It is also an extremely popular supper dish. This doughy pancake is made out of wheat floor, sugar, salt, water and ghee. While it might have low sodium on its own, prata has a high fat content due to the oil used to cook it. Curry and sugar, the classic complements to prata, are not healthy. Most of the curries served with prata contain grated coconut which is very rich and high in cholesterol.
To make the dish healthier, switch out the prata with dosa (thosai), which is made of rice flour and ground lentils. You can also opt for healthier accompaniments such as dhal (lentil) curry.
Traditional beancurd instead of beancurd pudding
Beancurd, or Tau Huay, is a traditional Singaporean dessert. At the base of the smooth, silky dessert is soy bean pudding, which is high in protein and low in fat. It is also a source of calcium. The dish is drizzled with a gelatinous palm sugar syrup and often accompanied with greasy deep-fried dough fritters (or You Tiao) that scream of trans fat.
Ask for less sugar syrup when ordering Tau Huay to improve nutrient density. A new version of soy bean dessert, soybean pudding, has been gaining popularity in the market over the recent years. Try to limit the consumption of the soybean pudding as it contains non-dairy creamer that is high in calories and fats.
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Ultimately, all the healthy modifications mentioned above are applicable to any breakfast. Practice good eating habits such as checking for the Healthier Choice Symbol and controlling the portions as well. With the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Dining Programme, it is now easier than ever to find healthier options in hawker centres and food courts.
There are other nourishing local breakfasts you can grab on the way to work.
Porridge with soy milk
A hearty breakfast available at every hawker center or food court is chicken or fish porridge. The shredded chicken and fish bring a healthy amount of protein to the dish while the porridge itself is low in fat. Chicken and fish is also recommended as a protein over pork as pork is higher in fat content. While the full serving of porridge might look like a lot, the volume of porridge is larger as it is cooked with water. Opt out of fried onions and dough fritters to reduce cholesterol intake as well. Choose no-sugar soy milk to complement your breakfast.
Mee Soto is a dish which consists of yellow noodles with shredded chicken in a spicy broth. It has a lower calorie and fat content as compared to Mee Rebus and Mee Siam. To reduce carbohydrate intake, you can request for a smaller serving of noodles. As the sodium content of the broth is high, limit the intake of the soup. This dish also comes with vegetables like spring onions and beansprouts. You can request for more vegetables and chicken to make the dish more wholesome. Adding a hard-boiled egg can not only give you an extra boost of protein and nutrients, but also add to the overall flavour of your breakfast!
Steamed vegetable bun and coffee
If you’re not feeling hungry at all, don’t skip breakfast altogether. Opt for smaller foods like buns, such as vegetable paus, which are a healthier option for those who enjoy grab-and-go dim sum. As the name suggests, it contains an assortment of vegetables such as chives, carrots, turnips and cabbage, which is a source of fibre and many nutrients. Although a char siew or chicken pau might contain more protein that a vegetable pau, they also have a higher cholesterol and sodium content and might not be the healthiest source of protein. The bun is also a moderate amount of carbohydrate. Pair it with kopi-o-kosong (aka coffee without sugar and condensed milk) or kopi-o siew dai (aka coffee with less condensed milk) for a quick yet fulfilling breakfast.
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Make your breakfast a nutritious one to start the day right. Learn ways to eat better and cultivate healthy eating habits. Sign up for free Active Health Expert-Led clinics on nutrition today!