Love Your Local Snacks? Here’s How To Make Healthier Choices

We love our homegrown sweet and savoury snacks, but not all of them are a dietitian’s dream.

By Azrina Ahmad        15 September 2023

Most Singaporeans love our local snacks. Tasty and cheap, these grab-and-go foods can be purchased from just about anywhere, from hawker stalls to convenience stores, and are just the thing to tantalise our taste buds and satisfy our hungry tummies. But not all of these snacks are ideal, nutrition-wise. Many are loaded with calories, fat, sugar and salt, and consuming more than a few servings a day might increase our risk of obesity and lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your local goodies. You can look for lower calorie alternatives, customise them to make them a little healthier, or request for them to be cooked or prepared differently, says Fiona Chia, a nutritionist and the founder of Health Can Be Fun, a nutrition consultancy.   

Here, she tells us how to make smarter snack choices. 

Is your favourite local snack good for you?

According to HealthXChange.sg, the recommended daily limit for the average adult Singaporean is 2,000mg for sodium; the daily total fat allowances are 47g-56g for female office workers and 58g-70g for male office workers; and the energy needs of sedentary office workers is estimated at 1,700 calories per day for females and 2,100 calories per day for males. 

This is important to consider when deciding what snacks to buy, because some tend to be higher in fat, sodium, sugar and calories than others. For example: 

  • Chwee kueh topped with chai poh (rice cakes with preserved radish): Five pieces contain 173 calories, 3g of fat and 170mg of sodium
  • Popiah (Nyonya rolled crepe with various fillings): One roll has 188 calories, 7.3g of fat and 290mg of sodium
  • Bak chang (rice dumpling): A 132g serving has 277 calories, 10g of fat and 486mg of sodium
  • Char siu bao (steamed barbecued pork bun): A 120g portion contains 363 calories, 15g of fat and 473mg of sodium
  • Rojak (spicy fruit and vegetable salad with peanuts, fried crullers, tofu puffs and shrimp paste-based rojak sauce): A 315g serve has 559 calories, 25g fat and 857mg of sodium
  • Steamed yam cake: A 133g piece contains 193 calories, 3g of fat and 580mg of sodium
  • Chicken curry puff: A 71g portion contains 246 calories, 16g of fat and 183mg of sodium 
  • Tutu kueh (sweet rice flour snack with various fillings): One piece has 64 calories and 2g of fat
  • Fish otah (spicy fish paste grilled in banana leaf): One 40g piece has 63 calories, 3g of fat and 211mg of sodium
  • Min jiang kueh (peanut pancake): One average slice has 185 calories, 4g of fat and 128mg of sodium

Source for nutritional information: MyFitnessPal

Pitfalls of unhealthy snacking

Many studies over the years have shown the health consequences of consuming too much salt, sugar and fat, says Fiona. These include an elevation in our cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels. When these remain chronically high, our body enters a state of inflammation, which may affect the health of our immune system and increase our risk for developing serious and debilitating conditions like gout, cancer and arthritis. 

A small amount of sodium is essential for the contraction and relaxation of muscles and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals. But a high sodium intake is linked not only with high blood pressure, but also cardiovascular disease, stroke and even the loss of calcium from our bones. 

Here’s how to identify foods with hidden sodium and reduce your intake.

The World Health Organization states that the excessive intake of dietary fat has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer. Saturated fat, in particular, found in meats and dairy products, is widely considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Eat this, not that: Tips for more nutritious snacking

Fiona says that you don’t have to omit your favourite snacks from your diet. Instead, she suggests finding ways to make them healthier. For example, if you’re craving bao (steamed buns), order one with a veggie or mushroom filling rather than one containing chicken, char siu or salted egg custard. If you love chicken wings, stay away from those that have been battered and deep-fried. BBQ wings are a better option, but dab off as much of the oil as possible before tucking in and limit your portion size to one or two wings. 

Love curry puffs? Go for the baked versions, not the fried or flaky ones, as these tend to be much higher in fat. Ask for less sugar, oil, toppings, fillings and sauces, too, in the case of snack foods like chwee kueh and min jiang kueh.

“The important thing is just to eat less foods that have been deep-fried and/or heavily processed, as these are often high in dangerous saturated and trans fats,” Fiona points out. 

“Most of the time, however, it’s how we consume our favourite snacks that matters. Frequency and portion size are key, even if the snack in question is not that unhealthy.”

More wholesome snacks include cup corn with less butter and salt, popiah, soon kueh (steamed dumplings filled with turnip and bamboo shoots), and tau huay (bean curd pudding) with less sugar syrup.

Aside from choosing snacks that are better for you, get more tips on healthy eating here.

Get great deals on healthier snacks!

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Note: Please consult your GP or physician before starting on a new diet plan.

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