5 deceptively ‘healthy’ hawker dishes that are really bad for your daily sodium intake levels

You might want to leave the soup and go easy on condiments the next time you eat out.
The Straits Times

It’s no secret that we often turn to food at the hawker centre for a quick, fuss-free dining option especially if we’re short on time or just too tired to slave over the hot stove.

In fact, the 2010 National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that six out of ten Singaporeans eat out at least four times a week.

That seems like it’s most of us, but how can we resist? Hawker food is readily available, generally affordable and saves you the whole hassle of having to meal prep.

Although it might not be the best in terms of nutrition, you always have the option of picking certain healthier dishes right?

Maybe not, especially if you’re watching out for your heart health.

The Straits Times reported on July 11 that each Singaporean consumes a staggering 3,320mg of sodium daily, well above the recommended 2,000mg.

Ingesting high amounts of sodium increases our risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) which is a silent killer linked to cardiovascular and kidney disease.

So if you’re one of those who frequently dines out, take note of these dishes commonly thought to be “healthier” options because they might surprise you with an unexpectedly high sodium content.

The data for each dish listed below was taken from a report published by HealthXchange, a SingHealth collaboration with the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).

Ban Mian

The Straits Times

Ahh, the office worker’s staple. After a whole morning in the frigid office, a piping hot bowl of soupy noodles is just the thing to warm your body up, right?

Wrong. Think twice before you drink that soup, because the sodium content in a 530g serving contains a whopping 2,196mg of sodium – way more than that plate of Char Kway Teow (1,459mg) and definitely more than the recommended daily allowance.

Fishball Noodle Soup

The Straits Times

Often lauded as the healthier version of its dry counterpart, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s not actually better for your body.

If you take a closer look at the figures, the differences in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol between both versions are negligible. But if you’re the kind who slurps up both noodles and soup, you’re downing 2,913mg of sodium in a 800g serving, almost 1,000mg over the recommended limit.

Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup

The Straits Times

Another popular dish among weight-watchers, this is yet another one that’s thought to be healthier.

But this is deceptively so, because sodium often lurks inside soups and you could also be wolfing down unhealthy oils and fats at the same time. But while Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup is low in fat and cholesterol, drinking the soup sets your sodium intake back by 1,414mg.

Porridge With Minced Pork & Century Egg

The Business Times

The go-to dish when you’re down with the flu bug, most of us would think a warm bowl of porridge looks innocuously healthy, especially because we see it being served to sick people all the time.

But one 512g serving packs a shocking 834mg of sodium which is bad enough on its own, but made worse when we add soy sauce as we’re often prone to do for that extra kick.

Chicken Soup with Chinese Herbs

The Straits Times

Many of us grew up drinking our grandmother’s herbal broths which contains immeasurable amounts of love and benefits because they take hours and hours to brew.

Unlike those soups cooked with TLC though, the ones made by your local hawkers could contain almost 909mg of sodium, almost half your daily allowance.

So if all the healthier options are not as healthy as you thought, what’s can you do?

According to accredited nutritionist Vivianna Wou from private nutrition firm Food Advisory Group, it seems you will first need to expand your options beyond the nearby hawker centres.

For instance, you could pack your own meals from home, or eat at cafes or bistros instead.

“Don’t always eat the same (kinds of) food,” she added.

“(Eating the same kinds of foods is) not only unhealthy but nutrient depleting.”

But if you must have lunch at your neighborhood kopitiam, leave the soup behind and go easy on your condiments.

Your body will thank you for it.