nasi lemak healthy food

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion, based on my personal observation; it is not my intention to offend anyone, and I sincerely apologise if in the course of this essay, anyone is offended. Remember: these are all just suggestions!

Everyone seems to  remember when TIME magazine included Nasi Lemak in its list of healthiest breakfasts from around the world; predictably, controversy followed in its wake. I don’t know where TIME got their information from regarding portion size, but a prominent criticism was that the average actual serving is much larger than the writer apparently assumed. In general, a portion of Nasi Lemak with all the trimmings is going to come in at a minimum of 800 to 1000 kcal. There’s really no way around it: it’s a lot of energy!

Now personally, I’m not against taking in a lot of calories for breakfast; in fact, I generally calculate my breakfast to be between 800-1000 kcal, particularly when I know I’m going to have a long day or challenging workout.  There are a lot of opinions on timing carbohydrates but I prefer to take a good portion of mine first thing in the morning, because if there’s a time of the day when you’re gonna need a readily available source of energy, it’s first thing in the morning. Of course the million dollar question is: what kind of carbohydrates are you taking?

When it comes to options, there really are much worse alternatives. If it’s a choice between a (relatively) well-rounded meal and a bowl of the average sugar-loaded commercial breakfast cereal, I know which one I’d choose. Most of the ingredients found in the average Nasi Lemak contain a lot of vital nutrients: vitamins B,C,E & K; magnesium, selenium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium and fibre.  Much of the reservation I personally have with it stems not from the ingredients but from the proportions.

If you take a look at the dietary habit of an average person struggling with obesity, what you’ll generally find is a heavy imbalance in favor of one particular food-group. This is a general rule in which there are very few exceptions. Put it this way: it’s hard to get fat while maintaining a well-rounded diet, no matter how much food you think you’re eating. For one thing, if your nutrition is comprehensive, you’ll typically be a lot less hungry.

Now if you look at the typical proportions of the average serving of Nasi Lemak, you can’t help but notice that plate is always heavily weighted in favour of the carbohydrate; it’s about 60-70% of the meal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you need to look at the utility of a meal like this in the context of your own personal objectives.

If you’re an active person who’s going to be hitting it pretty hard that day, It might work for you. I’d personally tweak a couple of things if I could. For one thing, if I was having chicken with it, I’d swap the thigh meat for breast because the protein content is higher; I’d avoid frying the chicken as well – the trouble with deep frying meat is that it increases the glycaemic index, in addition to adding an excess of saturated fat and simple carbs to the mix. You’ve already got more than enough fat on your plate with the coconut milk. I’d increase the vegetables on the plate by a considerable margin as well. And of course, things like peanuts, cucumber, eggs and anchovies are all things you can eat more of with relative reassurance (the sodium in the anchovies might be problematic, and if you’re prone to a sensitive stomach you might want to go easy on the eggs).  Similarly, the chili in the sambal may actually help to accelerate your metabolism, so it’s all good there as well!

If you’re looking for a pre-workout meal, a SMALL portion might (MIGHT) actually hit the spot, because the combination of simple carbohydrates combined with a ready source of energy like coconut milk, could help to keep your energy levels at optimum during your workout.  Couple tips: if you are going to try this, be sure to time your meal about 90 minutes before the workout (any less and you might regret it); make sure to have some form of protein included, because this will help to keep the energy release slow and steady. Crucially, this meal needs to be small. The ideal pre-workout meal is roughly 250kcal (about a quarter the size of the average portion), so if you feel you won’t be able to resist eating more, maybe try something else. If you discount my advice (it is just advice), and decide to go ‘all-out’ with portion size, please do try to keep the 90 minute gap between the workout and the meal; you really might not feel too great after your workout if you don’t!

Again, timing is important. As a breakfast option for an active person, with just a few tweaks the meal might really hit the spot.  I personally like to keep my carb intake in the first half of the day, so I would probably not have it for dinner.  I’m not saying you absolutely have to do this, it’s just what works for me.

Now, if you’re sedentary or struggling with weight-loss: sorry! You need to think about giving this one a miss. Meals like Nasi Lemak were designed around the energy requirements of men and women living in a tropical country surrounded by high mountains and rain forests filled with dangerous animals, and who had to get around performing basic everyday tasks in this punishing environment; bear in mind that the most reliable source of power was raw human muscle! It’s basically high-octane gasoline for high-demand performance. If you’re the kind of person who would rather drive than walk a mile (be honest with yourself), you really should think about more suitable, low-calorie alternatives. Similarly if you are working towards weight-loss: Nasi Lemak really might be contributing to holding you back if you make too much of a habit out of it.

In conclusion: for an energized person (a champion, if you like) who strives to get the most out of life: Nasi Lemak could definitely fit into a healthy diet. As with everything, the keys are moderation and variety. If you’re not quite there yet, but you truly want to be: you’ll have to decide between the food you love and body you want to have.

by Arthur Rutt

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