Do you know what's inside your favourite Malaysian hawker foods?

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Malaysians love food; there is no counter-statement to that. 24-hour mamak restaurants and hawker centres are part of our lives, especially when many are within reach any time of the day.

Affordability and variety are probably the primary reasons for why we prefer hawker centres and food courts as our ideal hangout choices to some of the fanciest get-together spots in town.

True enough, any decently sized hawker centre in Malaysia could offer one a choice between Western to Oriental and Middle Eastern to Malaysian dishes, with extensive menus that never bore your eyes and taste buds.

But did you know or ever cared about what goes into the wok when cooking your favourite foods, or what these foods actually do to your health?

Let’s start by looking at some of our staple hawker foods that possibly every Malaysian loves to eat:

Type of Food Calorie (kcal) Fat (g) Sodium (mg)
Nasi Lemak 1 Plate Nasi Lemak 1 Plate 389 13 777
Chicken Rice 1 Plate Chicken Rice 1 Plate 607 23 1287
Fried Rice 1 Plate Fried Rice 1 Plate 637 25 1465
Penang Laksa 1 Bowl Penang Laksa 1 Bowl 377 2 2287
Mee Curry 1 Bowl Mee Curry 1 Bowl 529 37 2456
Mee Goreng 1 Plate Mee Goreng 1 Plate 588 23 1466
Mee Bandung 1 Bowl Mee Bandung 1 Bowl 549 28 2219
Fried Kuey Teow 1 Plate Fried Kuey Teow 1 Plate 642 31 1704
Fried Maggie Noodle 1 Plate Fried Maggie Noodle 1 Plate 519 29 1521
Rojak 1 plate Rojak 1 plate 752 51 901

Reference: Infographic from

What can we perceive from the above infographic chart? Basically, if not for high levels of calories (from carbs, sugar or any other energy source), there is unbelievable amounts of fat and if not for fat, there is unbelievable amounts of salt in most or all of the hawker foods out there, some exceeding daily recommended amounts by many folds.

For a start, let us look at what the daily recommended intakes are. For sodium, the recommended maximum intake should be less than 2000mg/day or about 1 teaspoon of salt. For fat, the recommended dietary fat intake is 25~30% of energy requirement per day. So if your daily energy requirement is about 2000 calories, your fat intake should not exceed the amount equivalent to 600 calories or about 50 to 60 grams.

However, many of our local delicacies above certainly contain more than necessary amounts of fat based on our daily needs. For instance, 1 teaspoon of oil amounts to approximately 5 grams of fat. And a plate of fried kuey teow has 31 grams of fat, which means it has at least 4 to 5 teaspoons of oil over and above other sources of fats such as egg and the rice noodles. That’s quite a plenty and more than what you need for a couple of meals. And probably takes you more than 30 minutes of treadmill running to burn that off.

Local delicacies

The same goes to sodium, which is actually more serious that fat intake if we are going by the numbers. If the maximum daily intake is 2000 mg per day for Asians, consuming a plate of nasi lemak for breakfast, fried rice for lunch and maybe mee curry for dinner, which is rather a basic combination for most Malaysians by the way, the amount of sodium intake would have exceeded 4600 mg per day, which is over double the amount of what you need in a day.

Now, what does this excessive sodium or fat intake does to your body?

When it comes to salt, in short, an excessive amount of sodium intake raises blood pressure and poses various health risks. When the amount of sodium in your bloodstream increases, this wrecks the delicate balance of your blood flow system, thereby reducing the ability of your kidneys to remove the water. The result is a higher blood pressure due to the extra fluid and extra strain on the delicate blood vessels leading to the kidneys.

Now, for fat intake and what happens to your body, which something everyone already knows or at least should know moving forward. Too much saturated fats from the fried foods listed above could raise the LDL cholesterol (or commonly known as bad cholesterol) in the blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. More obviously, one of the more immediate effects of eating too much fatty food and carbs too is the potential for weight gain. Both carbs and fats are concentrated sources of calories: carbohydrates contain about 4 calories per gram whereas fats contain about 9 calories per gram. So when you have too much carbs and fats intake in a day, more than what your body needs and probably burns, the excess stays back in the body as added folds around your waist, belly, neck and all other unfavorable areas,

*As causes for being overweight vary from person to person, weight loss results will also vary from person to person, dependant on various genetic or environmental factors such as food intake, individual rate of metabolism, level of exercise, etc. No individual result should be seen as typical.