For today’s consumers, the value of food is often tagged with its price.  Malaysians are no exception. Though having access to plenty of home-grown produce, they too perceive high-end superfoods as having a higher concentration of nutrients compared to local foods.

Researchers from The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business say that the common misconception that expensive food is healthier may discourage consumers who have limited budget from healthy eating altogether.

According to Rachel Moey, dietitian at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, when people think of healthy eating, most link it to the so-called “superfoods” such as blueberries, raspberries, quinoa and walnuts, which cost more than local food.

The other challenge is that compared to local produce which do not really provide comprehensive nutrition information, the nutrient content of most imported food is easily available online. Consumers are led to believe that these foreign foods are superior. She also attributes it to media hype and aggressive marketing strategies by Western food companies.

“Because of this, many of us do not realise that local foods are actually high in nutrition and loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals. Nutrients that are prominent in an imported food item can also be found in local foods. You just need to know what they are and find the right ones for your requirement of carbohydrate, protein and fat,” she explains.

Look beyond health claims as local foods are nutrient-rich

Malaysian fitness and nutrition coach Joanna Soh believes that consumers should look beyond health claims as some foods without these claims have the same ingredients which will provide the same nutrition at a lower price.

Tofu, she suggests, is a healthy source of protein which is widely available and affordable in the country. Local colourful vegetables like dark spinach, carrot, brinjal, broccoli and pak choy have high antioxidants.

Thus, instead of settling for the conveniently packed salad, Moey suggests opting for local vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, or make your own ulam with long beans, winged beans or petai (stinky beans).

President of the Malaysian Dietitian’s Association (MDA), professor Dr Winnie Chee encourages Malaysians to eat local superfoods, especially in light of the rising cost of living. She said, “Local spinach, or bayam, is rich in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin K, and papayas are rich in carotenoids and vitamin C as well.”

Local fruits are packed with vitamins 

Local fruits like guava, water melons, papayas, durians and rambutans have as much vitamin C and carotenoids as the imported kiwis, berries, apricots or peaches. “For example, the local guava is one of the richest sources of vitamin C and fibre,” Dr Chee adds.

These days there is much rage over pricey whole grains. Moey suggests eating brown rice instead of white rice, or mixing barley into the rice to ensure getting enough fibre. The idea is to mix expensive ingredients like brown rice with cheaper ones, and also, since brown rice is mostly an acquired taste, it will be a great way to introduce them into the diet.

Healthy local food alternatives
Healthy local food alternatives

Healthy local food alternatives 

Similarly, when it comes to snacks, local fat sources are just as good. Moey shares, “Snacking on walnuts or almonds can be expensive, so choose peanuts which also have high mono-unsaturated fat. Other healthier local fat sources are seeds — like pumpkin, sesame and sunflower.

”Superfoods need not be costly. Nutrition coach Soh urges Malaysians to “educate yourself on what is good and cheap in Malaysia.”

Dr Chee feels it is time for local consumers to make a shift. “Perhaps this is something that local health food vendors can look at. In turn, we fellow Malaysians can look to change our perception about the superiority of imported foods over equally nutritious home grown food.” MIMS

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