SINGAPORE - Chicken features in gym owner Viknesh Vennu's lunch and dinner every day, be it grilled chicken with pasta, baked chicken with couscous or roasted chicken breast with vegetables.

But the 31-year-old may soon have to replace his favourite meat with another source of protein, with Malaysia's ban on the export of chicken starting Wednesday (June 1).

Singapore imported almost 73,000 tonnes of chicken from Malaysia last year - more than a third of the Republic's chicken supply. According to the Singapore Food Agency, chicken is the most widely consumed meat here, with a per capita consumption of 36kg in 2020.

Mr Derrick Ong, founder and accredited dietitian at Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy & Clinic, says chicken is a common protein source and features in many local dishes, such as chicken rice and mee soto ayam.

"It also seems to be the only poultry meat that is widely accepted across different ethnic and religious groups," he adds.

While people with higher protein requirements, such as the elderly or bodybuilders, may find it harder to meet their needs due to Malaysia's ban on chicken exports, dietitians say there are alternative protein sources.

Dr Naras Lapsys, a consultant dietitian at The Integrative Medical Centre, says the next best protein source after chicken is lean pork.

"We get good-quality Indonesian pork in Singapore. If you buy pork chop trimmed of fat, it's very similar in nutritional content to chicken, in that it is high in protein and low in fat," he says.

Apart from pork, Mr Ong says beef and duck are good sources of protein and have higher iron content than chicken.

"Remove the skin, trim off the visible fat and choose leaner cuts of red meat to limit your saturated fat intake," he advises.

Fish is also a great alternative source of protein, say experts.

Dr Lapsys says white fish such as barramundi and snapper are reasonably priced at wet markets and can be prepared in a similar way to chicken: baked, steamed or poached.

Mr Viknesh plans to substitute chicken with white fish fillet and beef. "Beef can be tricky as different cuts have different levels of protein and fat. I prefer sirloin steaks and, for white fish, I usually take pangasius fillet as it is cheap and high in protein," he says.

Gym owner Viknesh Vennu plans to replace chicken with white fish fillet and beef. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ms Miko Yeo, a dietitian at Changi General Hospital, says fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are good protein sources and provide Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining good cardiovascular health.

She suggests going for tuna canned in water or olive oil, and to consume less gravy in the canned sardines.

Eggs and dairy products are also excellent sources of protein which are easy to handle and prepare.

For example, eggs can be eaten soft- or hard-boiled, or lightly fried, says Mr Ong.

Dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt can be consumed on their own or paired with other foods - for example, bread and cheese or yogurt and fruit, he adds.

However, he advises consumers to choose low-fat dairy products to limit their intake of saturated fat.

Eggs are a good choice, especially for those who are on a low-cholesterol diet and a tight budget.

Eggs and dairy products are excellent sources of protein which are easy to handle and prepare. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

When taken in moderation - meaning six to seven eggs a week - they are a great source of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, says Ms Yeo.

"Even on a low-cholesterol diet, it is acceptable to eat three to four whole eggs a week if one's usual diet is low in saturated fats. This means taking minimal amounts of deep-fried or oily foods, and foods rich in coconut milk," she says.

Ms Diane Seto, a senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, says soya products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame and soya beans are affordable, high-quality sources of plant protein and a suitable alternative to chicken meat.

"A hundred grams of firm tofu contains a similar amount of protein to 60g of chicken meat," she adds. "Soya also has other health benefits. It is low in saturated fat, and can help lower blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease."

Soya products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame and soya beans are a suitable alternative to chicken meat. PHOTO: ST FILE

Tofu, Dr Lapsys says, is another good choice, especially for seniors, as it is easy on the teeth and can be cooked simply by air-frying, stir-frying or steaming.

Retiree Gurcharan Singh, 69, plans to consume more fish and tofu. "Chicken is delicious and the main meat I eat, but if it is tough to get it during this period, I will switch to other sources of protein like fish and tofu, which are healthy too," he says.

Those who need to watch their spending can consider consuming beans and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and baked beans.

They are a low-cost alternative to animal protein and provide an excellent source of fibre, iron, zinc and antioxidants, says Ms Seto. They are also low in fat and calories.

A half-cup portion of chickpeas, for instance, is equivalent in protein to about 30g of chicken meat, she notes.

Beans are also versatile and can be eaten in many ways: blended into a dip, added to stews or salads, or stir-fried with other ingredients.

Seniors can also consider taking low-fat milk or unsweetened soya milk, which provide one other important nutrient besides protein.

"They provide calcium, which is important in maintaining bone health in the elderly population," says Ms Yeo.