On diet? 5 favourite Malaysian food to avoid and how to replace them

The rice component of nasi lemak is cooked in fattening coconut milk. (Pixabay.com pic)

It is no secret that Malaysia is a food haven enjoyed by people across the world, with their culinary cravings urging them to head to our stalls, coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.

With a rich heritage comprising Malay delights, tasty Chinese offerings, spicy Indian meals, Peranakan and Portuguese palate pleasers and ethnic east Malaysian edibles, it is near impossible to find something that does not tantalise your taste buds.

But with great food comes big bellies. Rather alarmingly, Malaysia is considered by some experts to be the most obese country in Asia. Not exactly the Malaysia Boleh we are aiming for.

Much has to be done to promote physical activity among the general populace, but the diet of the average Malaysian has to change if this country wants to get rid of its growing waistlines.

Unfortunately, some of our food staples hold responsibility for this obesity epidemic and must be substituted for healthier options:

1. Nasi lemak

You can say it’s in the name.

Nasi lemak, while undeniably delicious and a filling meal, is unfortunately stuffed with calories that you do not need.

Malaysians have no issue with eating nasi lemak at any time of the day, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or even supper!

The lack of vegetables in nasi lemak also makes it a less than healthy dish; as the few slices of cucumber provide nowhere close to enough fibre and the rice cooked in coconut milk is filled with saturated fat.

With up to 800 calories per serving, only consider eating this if you have a day of intensive physical work ahead of you.


Try nasi kerabu instead. It comes in a pretty blue hue and more importantly is loaded with vegetables and is a healthy balanced diet.

2. Teh tarik

Teh tarik has a high sugar content due to the use of condensed milk. (F&N pic)

A uniquely Malaysian beverage that is rich and frothy, which is the exact reason nutritionists advice against drinking it.

Made with a large amount of condensed milk, teh tarik is extremely sweet and is unsurprisingly filled with fat.

Gulping down just one glass of teh tarik will have you drinking twice the amount of sugar your body needs in a single day.


Consider ordering a teh ‘o’ instead, preferably a teh ‘o kosong’ which is without sugar. Or if you prefer something less bland with a citrusy tinge, a teh ‘o’ limau.

3. Fried street snacks and kuih

Bananas lose their nutritional value when they are turned into fritters. (Butterkicap.com pic)

Malaysian street food culture is pervasive, with stalls on every road and in every neighbourhood selling snacks to be eaten on-the-go.

However, most of these street food are deep-fried in extremely fattening oil, and their batter will still be dripping oil even when out of the wok.

Banana fritters, or pisang goreng, are particularly popular offenders, with each piece containing about 120 calories, as people are wont to stuff themselves with them.

Any health benefits from a bowl of mushrooms are lost the instant they are tossed into a wok filled with oil and even more so with unhealthy seasoning thrown in.

Kuih, too, are not to be dismissed due to their small size, as they really are massive sugar boosts that threaten your diet.


If you have a sweet tooth, get some fresh fruit like mango and watermelon. Unsalted nuts and seeds are also healthy alternatives rich in vitamin E.

4. Fried chicken

Fried chicken is not only oily but also normally comes with lots of sodium and seasoning. (Pixabay.com pic)

Found served alongside nasi lemak or as a meal in fast food outlets, fried chicken is considered a meal option by many Malaysians.

No matter which dining establishment you enter, be it a simple coffee shop or a fancy restaurant, you will almost certainly find some form of fried chicken on the menu.

As it is with all things that are cooked in boiling oil, the crispy layer is a warning sign of just how fattening it is.

Almost like a sponge, fried chicken will absorb the oil and become a calorie bomb as a result.

Consider the fact that a single piece of fried chicken contains some 600 calories, and that is not counting the sodium-filled seasoning and the sauces that come with it.


Steamed chicken is always a healthier option, but if you are looking for something akin to fried chicken, look no further than your nearest Indian or mamak restaurant where you can find spice-laden tandoori chicken waiting to be savoured.

5. Roti canai

Roti canai is a flat bread normally eaten with dhal or curry. (tripadvisor.com pic)

While less of an offender than char kway teow or nasi lemak, roti canai is still considered to be a rather oily food.

Made from flour and ghee, its raw ingredients are actually relatively healthy, but it is the method of cooking that makes the calorie counter shoot up.

Cooked with oil and butter, roti canai already has some 300 calories, and that is before dipping it into sambal or curry.

As much as you might want not to think of it, roti canai is something you should not eat continuously especially with a sedentary lifestyle.


Thosai, a similarly filling flatbread, comes with fewer calories than a roti canai of equal size. Made from lentils and rice, it is essentially a fermented crepe and it is cooked with minimal oil. The same goes for chapati which is made from wheat flour and water.

Please note that this article (including images) is for information purposes only. It is to promote a broader understanding of various health topics, and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please visit your Doctor if you have any health concerns.