Yesterday was the day most, if not all, Malaysians have been dreading – it’s the day we started paying Goods and Services Tax. The past week has been filled with anecdotes of last minute stockpiling – traffic jams, shopping trolley jams and human jams everywhere. There’s a lot of confusion as to what is cheaper, what is more expensive, and I’ve been hearing of a few places taking advantage of the situation and jacking up prices beyond the 6% impact of the GST.
As eating healthy is going to continue to be very important for me, I had to find out: What is the GST impact on healthy eating? And through my research, I’ve come up with some good news and bad news. Let’s talk about the good news first – fresh ingredients are zero-rated products not subject to GST! This roughly includes everything listed below:
- All fresh and/or chilled vegetables. (Side note: I was pretty excited to see avocado and kale specifically mentioned as GST exempt)
- Frozen vegetables, including those steamed or boiled: they listed potatoes, peas, beans, spinach, sweetcorn, other veg and mixed veg.
- Preserved vegetables (in brine): olives, gherkins, mushrooms, truffles (amusing, right?), sweetcorn, chillies.
- Dried chillies.
- Dried legumes: dried peas and lentils (dhal).
- Nuts: coconuts, brazil nuts, cashew nuts. This includes fresh, dried (such as desiccated coconut), shelled and peeled.
- All fresh and/or chilled fruits. Note: fresh dates and fresh figs are listed as GST exempt but not their dried counterparts.
- Dried fruits, with some exceptions – not applicable to fruits like bananas, dates, pineapples, mangoes, mangosteens, citrus fruits, grapes.
- Mixtures of dried fruits and nuts.
- Green tea.
- Spices – pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, fennel, coriander, cumin, caraway, ginger, saffron, turmeric, thyme, bay leaves, curry.
- Brown rice.
- Rice flour – not clear if this includes brown rice flour.
- Coconut oil (yay!).
- Rice vermicelli (bee hoon) noodles – not clear if this includes brown rice vermicelli, or if the pasta exemption includes gluten-free, brown rice pasta.
And that’s quite a substantial list already! If you’re not on a plant-based diet, don’t fret, because raw meat is also GST exempt.
On to the bad news. In general, GST does not apply to products that require any sort of processing, and anything that is imported (unless listed above). Therefore, these healthy food items are unfortunately not GST exempt, and will cost you 6% more – a bigger impact on price can be expected from the weakening ringgit too:
- Grains such as quinoa, oats, buckwheat and millet.
- Gluten-free flours.
- Gluten-free condiments such as tamari.
- Plant-based milks (dairy is also not GST exempt).
- Dried dates and dried figs appear to be not GST exempt.
- All nuts except cashew nuts and brazil nuts.
- Tinned tomatoes.
- Unrefined sweeteners such as honey, date syrup, agave syrup and rice malt syrup.
- Nut butters.
- Superfoods such as chia seeds, spirulina.
- Vitamin/health supplements.
Chances are, if you have embarked on this healthy food journey, the pinch of GST might not hit you as hard as some. However, I believe healthy eating should be accessible to all. I myself am only a couple of years in on the Great Big Corporate Ladder, and I definitely do not have a massive salary to go by. I think that it’s a great thing that the longer, GST-free list above is so accessible, and the fact that brown rice is exempt is definitely a big plus! Here are some of my tips for eating healthy on a GST-sensitive budget:
- Practice meal prepping. It takes a maximum of three hours over the weekend, and most of that time is inactive time while you wait for things to cook in the oven and on the stove. This really saves you a lot, and ensures you nourish your body with only good food. Check out my meal prep tips here.
- Increase your vegetable intake. Meat is more expensive than vegetables, not only to your pocket but also to the environment. Bulking up your meals with vegetables helps keep you full and satiated due to the fibre content, keep costs down and also provides you with all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy – and this includes protein!
- If you need to eat rice at your meals, make the switch to brown rice. Brown rice is much better for you as it is converted into energy at a steadier rate than brown rice – lasting you longer thru the day. And because it is more fibrous, you feel more satiated than with white rice and you’ll find that you don’t need to eat so much.
- Make your own plant-based milk! This is cheaper than purchasing the ready-made milks from the store, can turn out cheaper than dairy milk and you avoid any nasty chemicals. Use cashew nuts or brazil nuts, or even desiccated coconut for coconut milk, since they are GST exempt! (The GST status of soy beans is a little unclear to me).
- Cook with coconut oil. It may seem expensive, but a little goes a long long way – we’re not deep-frying at all here in healthy-land. Half a teaspoon to a teaspoon here and there, and that bottle will last you a long time. Coconut oil is also one of the healthier options out there so it really is a worthwhile “investment”.
- Seek out cheaper, local fruits and vegetables – even cheaper if you visit the pasar malam or local wet market – and use them in your juices and smoothies. Bananas are especially great, making your smoothie creamy without the need for yoghurt, and it is naturally sweet, while also being rather cheap!
- If you have a garden at home, it would be a great idea to start planting your own herbs, vegetables and fruits! It does take a little bit of effort, but you’ll soon enough be able to cultivate your very own home-grown produce. Trust me, nothing is better than garden fresh!
With these tips, there really is no reason to ditch your healthy eating habits, or to not start on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. I highly recommend trying out meal prepping – it is a simple but very advantageous habit you can learn to adjust to. Think about the time and money you save elsewhere in the week too.
Question to my readers: I’d love to hear about how you’re adjusting to the GST, or if you have your own tips for eating well with a budget.