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Health note: How fatty is Chinese food? — A healthy Chinese food diet

… Most of us keep on battling between ‘eating carelessly’ and ‘keeping a good shape’.

For me, I want both, well, probably a bit more towards — ‘never sacrifice my food for a super slim body’. :)) My family and friends must be tired of me complaining that I have put on weight, but I still cannot stop eating. Saying that, of course, I don’t want to go out of shape completely either.

By ‘shape’, I do not mean (and will never mean) a super slim bony body shape, but rather a well proportioned, nicely curved body shape. Before talking about how fat food is, I think having the right conception of ‘shape’ is the most important thing. I have never been the ‘skinny’ type, and thanks to my friends I have never been corrupted by the current cult to ‘slimness’. The good thing is that I have never really been completely out of shape.

But, how fatty is Chinese food? Are there lots of calories in Chinese dishes? I do not believe Chinese food is generally speaking fatty or highly caloric, but there are exceptions…

I have come across diet plans online a few times. In almost all of them, the first rule was to cut off Chinese take-away food. I was surprised. I always thought Chinese food was not something needs to be avoided.

Later, I realized that the problem is not ‘Chinese food’ per-se, but rather ‘take-away’ food, which is often deep fried and can be very greasy and heavy. Well, in fact, Chinese restaurant food can also be equally greasy and heavy. That is why I like to cook at home — ‘personalized’ food, I am in charge of the calories, fat and nutrients in my plate.

I also heard some friends saying that Chinese food cannot be too fatty, because there are not many overweight Chinese people. I partly agree with this. In North China, food portions are surprisingly generous; in the South (especially the Canton area), people eat four or five times per day, and most women wear size 8 to 16. (Southeners are considered slimmer than northeners). There are, however, many rather fatty Chinese dishes; balance is the key thing.

I am not an expert in health or nutrition, but myself can be a good example: I don’t have the genes to stay slim effortlessly or being overweight. So the saying ‘you are what you eat’ totally works on me. I increase my calorie intake, I put on weigh; I watch out a bit, I lose some. I have my weight ups and downs, but never put on or lost more than 4 kg since I was 17. And Chinese food has always been my main meal.

Is simple stir-fried food fatty? – no, at least, I don’t think so. As you can see, in all my ‘simple stir-fry’ recipes, there is little oil involved, no cheese or butter, and not much salt. It is healthy — since it is quickly cooked, the freshness and nutrients in the ingredients are better preserved. However, one thing that one needs to pay attention to is that the amount of sugar in the dish, that is also part of the calories hidden.

What can be fatty in Chinese meals then? — I think that deep fried food or deep frying before stir frying is the enemy, for both keeping body shape and staying healthy. Too much deep fried food can harm stomach, liver…, and it is not good for skin either. This is one of the main problems when dining in Chinese restaurants or having Chinese take-aways. For example, when my dad decided to lose some weight for health reasons, the first thing he did was to cut off meals in restaurants; he lost his belly in less than three months.

How about meat then? It depends on how you cook it really. Again, if you fry it, the result is not good. However, luckily, in many Chinese recipes, meat is boiled, for example, ‘Jiang Niu Rou’ (Soy sauce beef salad), after long time boiling, most of the fat comes out, only the leanest part of the meat is left, so it is healthier than ‘Crispy beef’.

I honestly cannot stand somebody refusing to eat this and that just because they are on diet, no matter, how strong a desire they have for the food. The advantage of Chinese food culture is there are usually many dishes on the table, so you can balance out. For example, if I make ‘crispy beef’, then I would stir fry a vegetable leaves as another dish, along with a simple Chinese salad (no really ‘dressing’). And when you think you have been taking too much fried food, then some dishes like black fungus can help cleansing your digesting system, instead of embarking yourself in a difficult detox diet. Or you can drink tea while eating, for example, Pu’er tea, which is known for ‘flushing’ out fat in the digesting system.

Despite this, many of my Chinese male friends ended up growing a belly; this is mostly due to drinking.

How much of an effect does this ‘balanced way of eating’ has? Every time I go back to China, stay with my parents, normally for a month, you can imagine the way my parents, relatives and friends feed me, I ate everything that I have been craving for, meat, vegetables, cakes, you name it. I was even too full to walk at some point, but at the end of my vocation, I lost weight — I know, it surprised me as well. And I could keep on losing a bit more even when I came back to UK.

Then I realized that it is not only about ‘balance’; I unintentionally followed most of my mum’s rules ‘right food, right amount and right time, combined with right amount of exercise’ — try to eat well balanced healthy food, do not over eat, and eat three meals at right time, especially the dinner time should not be later than 8pm; as for the exercises, over the years, the metabolism gets gradually slower, and exercise can help speeding it up again. This are really my basic and simple rules for having healthy diet, and keeping a good body shape while having Chinese food.:))

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At the beginning


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