Eating out in Penang is most people’s favourite pastime. Often it’s cheaper and more convenient to eat out than to cook at home. However, many of the local foods are cooked in a lot of oil which not only adds inches to the waistline but pushes up cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol can increase risk of heart disease.
What Penangite can resist the lure of Assam Laksa, Nasi Lemak, Char Kueh Teow and other fried rice and noodle dishes. Then there are drinks such as Teh Tarik and desserts that are full of sugar. However, more and more people, especially children, are eating “junk” foods such as burgers, fries, fried chicken, crisps, sweets and carbonated drinks.
Eating a diet high in fat and sugar as well as a lack of exercise has led to Malaysia being crowned the fattest country in South East Asia. According to National Health and Morbidity Surveys, 15.1% of Malaysians aged 18 and above were suffering from obesity as of 2011. Over 2.6 million adults were obese while over 477,000 children below the age of 18 years were overweight.
Being overweight is linked to dangerous health risks such as diabetes, heart problems and even cancer. Shockingly, there is a significant rise in the diagnosis of diabetes in young children.
People believe that in order to lose weight people have to significantly reduce their calories by limiting what they eat. This is called going on a “diet”. Billions of dollars a year is spent in countries such as the US on different “diet” programmes, “diet” foods, meal “replacements”, books, exercise videos and “health” clubs. The fact is, for all the billions of dollars spent, people are getting fatter. Why is this?
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know that losing the weight isn’t the problem. The success of many of the diet programmes is because the calories are restricted to a level which is bound to cause weight loss. The problem is keeping the weight off and this is where these type of diets tend to fail. Once the diet is stopped, more often than not, the weight piles back on again. Low calorie, restrictive diets are simply not sustainable.
What if there was a diet that was healthy, involved no calorie counting and an unlimited amount of food? Too good to be true? It does exist and it’s called a plant-based diet.
A plant-based diet follows a vegan approach where animal and dairy products are avoided. Foods eaten are as unrefined and unprocessed as possible. This type of diet includes veggies, fruits, beans, lentils, potatoes and whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa. These foods are high in nutrients and low in calories and fat. This means that you can eat as much as you want without having to count calories or feel hungry.
Cooking oil and oil dressings are avoided. They can add hundreds of extra calories to meals and are highly refined products. People need a certain amount of fat and oil in their diet to maintain good health. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains will provide all the oil needed. Avocadoes, seeds and nuts are especially high in oil and fat and, for this reason, should be limited. Steaming, baking, grilling or water sauteing is a good way to avoid using refined oils.
Maybe this type of diet sounds dull and boring? It isn’t, because there are so many fruits, veggies and grains to choose from. Get creative in the kitchen. Breakfast could be a large mixed fruit salad or rolled oats with fruit. For lunch, stir fry some colourful vegetables, add some beans and serve over a bed of steamed browned rice. For dinner, instead of hamburgers, why not make bean burgers using different cooked beans, served with boiled potatoes and a lovely mixed salad?
Healthy, Slim and Full
There is strong medical evidence that a plant-based diet contributes towards good health and longer life. Veggies, fruits and grains can significantly aid weight loss, improve heart health and prevent adult-onset diabetes.
A study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2005 showed that overweight post-menopausal women who went on a plant-based diet lost a significant amount of weight despite there being no limits on portion size. Their insulin levels lowered which reduced their risk of diabetes.
It’s not only women who can benefit. Bill Clinton, former US President, recently turned to this type of diet. This was after having quadruple bypass surgery to unblock his arteries only to have them become blocked again. He is now more than 20lbs lighter and in much better health.
What is the next step?
It’s simple. For a fitter, slimmer, healthier lifestyle, significantly reduce or cut out animal and dairy products. Forget portion size. You will never go hungry because unlimited amounts of fruit, veggies and beans can be eaten. Potatoes and grains such as brown rice can be limited if you want to lose weight quickly but it isn’t necessary.
When eating out choose a place with healthy options. Get into the habit of filling up on a large portion of salad without oil dressing, a variety of cooked vegetables, boiled potatoes instead of fries and steamed rice, instead of fried rice. Forget sugary sweets and cakes for dessert, have fruit instead. Small changes make a huge difference.
There’s no such thing as eating too many veggies. Try it and see – you may find that you love them.
In Penang there is a rise in healthy food eateries. Click on this Eating Out link to find out where they are.