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How Much Does It Really Cost To Eat Healthily In Malaysia?

BY Philippe Andrews

Updated 06 Oct 2021

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“Wah, so expensive weh. Better buy cheaper things.”

If you’re a Malaysian who has had this thought when deciding whether you should eat healthily, believe us when we tell you you’re not alone. It’s perfectly understandable to have such thoughts, too — since Malaysia is, after all, the home of affordable and delicious food.

After all, where else would you be able to have a satisfying meal of roti canai, some kari ayam and a glass of teh ais for around RM5?

However, it’s also no secret that cheap meals aren’t always the healthiest dietary options, and the fact that they’re easily available everywhere probably contributes largely to Malaysia’s alarming obesity rates.

Before you pass this off as another “Aiya, no choice la!” situation though, we’d like to ask you to take a step back and consider this: what if eating healthily in Malaysia isn’t actually an expensive thing to do? What if it isn’t only for the rich?

To be even more specific, what if you could afford it just as much as you could for that roti canai meal?

No, this isn’t just an attempt to “probok-probok” you. Spare a couple of minutes to read on, and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about.

What's covered in this article?

What does eating healthily mean?

For starters, let’s firstly remember that your personal definition of ‘healthy eating’ can differ from that of the people around you — and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. 

Image source: Harvard School of Public Health

This is mainly because your own dietary needs can easily vary from that of your siblings, your parents, your partner, or your friends, due to myriad reasons like religious beliefs, health issues, and work. As such, Ali would have different healthy eating habits than his vegetarian friends, Raj and Meng. Marathon runner, Ashley, may also have healthy eating habits that are completely dissimilar to those of her sister, Amanda, who happens to be a teacher.

Fortunately, for the purpose of this article and to prevent things from getting too complex or confusing, we’ll be using a healthy eating guide that was provided by the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) as our general reference and comparison point. This guide is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution that can fulfil everyone’s specific dietary needs, but it definitely is a good way to start eating healthily.

According to this guide, a healthy diet is a balanced one that practices a lot of moderation. It recommends keeping your consumption of meat at moderate levels, while your consumption of fat and oily food should be kept to a minimum at all times. The guide also explains that it is a great idea to reduce your intake of sugar while encouraging yourself to feast on more fruits and vegetables every day. 

Image source: NST

This is why the MOH came up with the Malaysian Healthy Plate project, which specifies that one-quarter of your plate for all meals should consist of carbohydrates, another quarter for protein, and the remaining half for vegetables and fruits.

Sounds pretty balanced and healthy, right?


The real cost of eating healthily

With the aforementioned ‘healthy plate’ concept in mind, it’s time to take a closer look at the real issue at hand: the cost of such a plate, and bigger still, the cost of eating healthily in Malaysia.

A suitable benchmark to use here would be a neighbourhood nasi kandar or economy rice shop, as these eateries make it easy to have a balanced plate of food. A serving of rice, protein and vegetables in such shops would probably cost you RM13 or less as of 2021, with rice being priced at around RM2 per serving, meat at RM5 to RM7, and vegetables at RM2 to RM4.

If you opt to have eggs instead of meat, you would be paying RM2 to RM4 per serving of protein, which could help to further lower down your meal without reducing the number of nutrients you’re getting from your meal.

Preparing such a meal at home would cost you even less overall because you’d be able to spread out the cost of ingredients across several days or weeks. Proper meal planning and preparation on a weekly basis would help tremendously in this area, despite how cliched it may sound.

“Eh, wait. Really so affordable? The maths must be wrong!”


If you reacted to the aforementioned examples in a way that is similar to the statement above, chances are you haven’t realised what the most important part of eating healthily without breaking the bank is.

One word, ladies and gentlemen: CHOICES

1. You don’t have to go organic to be healthy.
When shopping for groceries to cook healthy meals at home, you do not necessarily have to opt for purely organic produce if you cannot afford to do so. Aim for balance instead, and choose more affordable ingredients to create those balanced meals. Two carrots for RM2 that are not organically grown may not seem very pretty, but they will still give you plenty of nutrients when compared to not having them at all.

2. You may not be as hungry as you think.
Around 15 to 30 minutes before you head out to eat, or before deciding what and how much to cook, choose to have a glass or two of water. This will help you ensure that you’re not mistaking thirst for hunger, which would help you save money as a result of not spending on food that you don’t really need.

3. You can spread out your meals even more.
If having a plate of nasi kandar or economy rice frequently still seems a little too hefty, choose to arrange your meals slightly differently. Start with a heavy breakfast of bread or cereal, then proceed to some meat and eggs for lunch, and finish with a plate of stir-fried vegetables for dinner.

These are just some examples of choices you can make actively to eat healthily in a more affordable manner, especially if you don’t quite have the time to cook your own meals at home or prepare meals in advance for the week.


Eating healthily doesn’t have to be only a dream

Image source: AsiaOne

Above all, one thing stands for certain: if your idea of eating healthily involves having balanced meals all the time, you can achieve that balance in plenty of inexpensive ways. What truly matters is your own research and choices when it comes to your meals.

For instance, having a cup of instant noodles three times a day is definitely bad news for the body. But, having it for breakfast as your daily dose of carbs, then having less carbohydrate-based meals like vegetables and fruits for the remainder of the day certainly sounds like a healthier alternative.

Don’t forget to throw regular exercise and a whole load of water into that mix on a daily basis, and you’ll soon realise that eating — and living — healthily in Malaysia isn’t an impossible dream at all!

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organisation, committee or other group or individual. The above article is intended for informational purposes only. Loanstreet accepts no responsibility for loss that may arise from reliance on information contained in the articles.

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About the Author

Philippe Andrews


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