A Goo-d food do-gooder

Cover personality shoot for star2 - Goo Chui Hoong. RAYMOND OOI/ The Star

Goo who? Goo a good food ambassador. This dietician has some crafty ideas to make us eat more healthily.

LOVE Malaysian food but hate the calories and associated ills? If you are motivated enough to prepare the local favourites at home, there is a way to make (most of) them healthier, says dietitian and enthusiastic cook Goo Chui Hoong, who has elected to lead us on a “lighter, better” path.

The adjunct clinical senior lecturer with the International Medical University has just published her dream cookbook, Lite Malaysian Favourites, a collection of repurposed recipes to encourage us to eat healthier and shed excess flab.

“As a food lover and avid cook, I have always wanted my own cookbook; as a dietitian very much alarmed by the recent statistics that Malaysia has the highest obesity rate in South-East Asia, I feel that I need to reach out to more people to share the message of eating more healthily.”

At the same time, she is perplexed that healthy food has such a bad rap. “The general perception is that it is tasteless, requires expensive ingredients and is a lot of work in the kitchen,” she said at her book launch in Putrajaya.

Goo has a previous book, Food For Your Eyes, co-authored with her ophthalmologist husband Dr Kenneth Fong, which won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award for Best Health Cookbook.

But it would take a lot more than a cookbook to tackle the problem of obese Malaysians. Aside from individual efforts, the authorities need to play their part, said Goo.

“Instead of subsidising un-healthy food items like sugar, the government can think of subsidising healthy food stuff and get food manufacturers to cut down on salt. Making cooking oil more expensive can also help curb its widespread use.

“Schools can help by providing healthy options – canteens need to provide choices but it should be healthy option A, or healthy option B.

“Educating a nation to eat healthier needs multi-front efforts,” she said, citing as a good initiative, the Singapore effort to encourage people to ask for bigger servings of vegetables and less oil and sugar when ordering food at hawker stalls. “Making hawkers open to such modifications, and making low-fat, low-sugar foods more readily available, will help tremendously.”

She said we need to first accept the fact that we need to eat healthy food most of the time and unhealthy food, not never, but just some of the time. “That’s the sustainable path.”

Put another way, that’s to eat healthily during the week, and take a break during the weekends. “Children accustomed to such an eating pattern will internalise it and that becomes the norm for them.”

She believes that getting people to go on a diet is not going to work as once the diet is off, they will go back to their old eating habits.

So she’s saying that we should eat normally, and instead change the way we prepare our food to make them less calorific and more nutritious.

Instead of deep frying food in fat, for example, we can bake it using just a small quantity of oil.

Is she kidding us? Can pisang goreng taste good if it is baked instead? Ms Goo gave me a look that suggested that I should be realistic.

“It will not be the same, but baking is an acceptable alternative to deep frying,” she insisted.

The trick to making it work is to avoid comparisons. Her Baked Banana Rolls – banana rolled in popiah skin and baked – is inspired by pisang goreng. It is delicious in is own right and much easier to knock out. Freshly baked and crispy, it will satisfy a yearning for unhealthy fried banana fritters.

What I like about the recipes in Lite Malaysian Favourites is that they tell me how much calories and fat I am going to cut. If I bake cucur udang instead of deep frying them, I cut out 200kcal and three teaspoons of fat per serving of four fritters.

A quick mental calculation tells me that’s worth 30 minutes of pounding on the treadmill, which is a brilliant trade-off if you ask me.

Aside from finding ways to reduce the calories of traditional recipes by using healthier cooking techniques, Goo tries to sneak in some nutritious ingredients when we are not looking.

She substitutes white flour with some wholemeal flour and adds chives and bean sprouts to increase the fibre content of cucur udang, for instance.

This book takes a reasonable approach to healthy eating. But will you be convinced enough to try the dishes? And more importantly, will the food be tasty?

The simple answer is yes; anything home-cooked will be good if you start with fresh, quality ingredients.

Her top tip for healthy eating? “Never go hungry as this leads to a lack of concentration, which leads to making irrational or wrong food choices, and a tendency to over eat.”

* Lite Malaysian Favourites by MPH retails for RM39.90 at bookstores now.

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