What’s Inside the Nasi Lemak?

We Malaysians love our nasi lemak, so much so that we’re turning them into burgers. Its spicy goodness often leaves us mouthwatering just by thinking about it.But as much as we love the meal, its nutritious benefit is questionable.

The TIME magazine claims nasi lemak as one of the 10 healthy international breakfasts… a claim by an international magazine so it must true right? Well, to put things in perspective, the comparison is being made with the not-so-healthy range of American breakfast. The name nasi lemak directly translates to “fatty rice”… you do the thinking.

To understand the benefits of nasi lemak, you first must understand what goes inside of it. Here’s the breakdown:

Coconut Rice

Nasi Lemak’s richest flavour comes from its rice that’s cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. This gives the rice the aromatic soft and fluffy texture we love. Coconut milk, although sweet, high in saturated fats. Saturated fats are highly nutritious and are claimed to lower the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Healthier option: White rice is pure carbohydrates with little nutrients in them. You can substitute white rice with brown rice for lower calorie and nutritious alternative.

The Sambal

Savoury, spicy and pungent, the sambal is what makes nasi lemak what it is. It is made out of chilli, onions and garlic. While the basic ingredients may seem healthy, the sambal is prepared with a lot of oil and sugar, therefore, making the sambal fattening and the worst ingredient in the nasi lemak.

Healthier option: Reduce the amount of oil and sugar in the sambal, or the sambal itself. You can also opt for chicken curry instead of sambal.


The next important ingredient is the hard-boiled egg. The egg balances the meal by adding high-quality protein, vitamins (A, B5, B12, B2), phosphorus and folate. They are great for strengthening your muscles, bones and heart. Sadly, most nasi lemak only serve half the hard-boiled egg. Some places serve a whole egg, but they are often fried.

Healthier option: Always go for the hard-boiled egg, and a whole egg if possible. Don’t skip the yolk. That’s where half of the nutrients are.

22720785 – cucumber slice isolated.


The fresh cucumbers added in the nasi lemak are supposed to balance the heat of the sambal and at the same time, provide you with the greens you need in a complete dish. They are rich in vitamin K, B vitamins, copper, potassium, vitamin C, and manganese and are good for hydration too.

Healthier option: The only healthier option to cucumbers is having more of them on your plate.

Roasted Peanuts

Peanuts, like any nuts, are a great source of energy due to the high calories they pack. They are rich monounsaturated fat (essential to maintaining a healthy heart), vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese.

Healthier option: Don’t go overboard with the nuts. As nutritious as they are, nuts are high in calories and might work against you if you are looking to lose weight.

Roasted Anchovies

Anchovies, or ‘ikan bilis’, are preserved with nutrients such as healthy fats, protein and calcium. Anchovies in nasi lemak are lightly fried and added with MSG.

Healthier option: Instead of frying the anchovies, you can opt to mix them with the sambal or toast them in an oven.

Nutrition Guide:

Ingredients Serving Calories  
Carbohydrate(g) Protein(g) Fat (g)
Coconut Rice 1 Cup 494 80 13 14
Anchovies 1 Tbspn 342 2.1 0.7 2.6
Hard Boiled Egg 1 Egg 78 0.6 6.3 5.3
Cucumber 3 Slices 4 0.9 0.2 0
Roasted Nuts 28g 16 5 7 14
Fried Egg 1 Egg 90 0.4 6.3 6.8
Fried Chicken 1 Piece 175 3.0 17 10
Chicken Rendang 1 Piece 200 10 30 25
Beef Rendang 262g 336 14.6 23 20.4
Fried Fish 1 Fish 160 11.8 8.8 8.7
Prawn Sambal 240g 192 9.0 15 11
Squid Sambal 4 Pieces 157 4.7 11.3 10
Sambal Kerang 80g 105 4.2 14 6.9

*Source: https://www.myfitnesspal.com/

*Nutritional value  mentioned is estimation for only. Actual value differs depending on serving size, ingredients and cooking method. A generic nasi lemak packs about 350 calories but depending on your serving size, it can go up to 650 calories.

We hope the breakdown helps you with deciding a healthier option and not make you feel guilty when you indulge in our national dish. Do check out Good Co and Meal in Box and Oomph Asia if you are looking for a guilt-free eat out.

Certified in Nutrition and General Fitness, Surin was a Tae Kwan Do instructor and a kickboxer before finding his footing in fitness writing. He also coaches on muscular fitness and assists in formulating specific training and meal plans for those looking to achieve physical wellness.