16 November 2018
Given an appropriate intake of margarine, it is still more preferable than butter. Photo: Bloomberg
Given an appropriate intake of margarine, it is still more preferable than butter. Photo: Bloomberg

Here are some smart food and ingredient choices

Thanks to their hectic work life, many Hongkongers including myself have given up cooking at home, choosing to eat out instead to save time and effort.

Initially, I was confident I could keep to a high-fiber, low-fat diet in restaurant food. As time went by, I realized it was merely wishful thinking.

Looking at the growing pile of clothes inside my wardrobe that no longer fit, I was taken aback. I knew I had been overeating.

I was also getting fed up with repetitive food choices. That’s why I decided to return to home cooking.

To start with, I needed to build up food supplies at home.

The nutritional value of frozen vegetables are no less than that of the fresh ones, making them ideal candidates for the freezer.

Frozen dumplings, udon noodles and Chinese buns are my contingent food items if I am too exhausted to cook after coming home from work.

In my refrigerator, you can find spreads like margarine, jam and peanut butter; eggs and dairy products such as low-calorie cheese and high-calcium, low-sugar soy milk.

Some people might have doubts about margarine due to concerns over trans fat which could produce bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which lowers good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

As a matter of fact, given an appropriate intake of margarine, it is still more preferable than butter.

Many margarine brands carry zero gram, or more accurately, less than 0.5 gram of trans fat.

More important is the fact that the main source of trans fat for Hongkongers is not bread spread but consumption of deep-fried food such as fried chicken and French fries and bakery products like cookies, cakes and puff pastries. These items should be avoided.

Before exercising, I would drink a cup of high-calcium soy milk to avoid low sugar in blood. This can help me meet as much as 50 percent of the daily required calcium intake.

Calcium plays a key role in preserving bone mass. The recommended amount for adults is at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.

However, Hong Kong adults on average have only 430 milligrams which is far from satisfactory, according to the Center for Food Safety.

Skimmed milk, reduced-fat milk, bean curd, calcium-added soy milk and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.

Fruit which is rich in water-soluble vitamins is indispensable in a healthy diet.

Vitamin C can boost skin health and strengthen the immune system. I love keeping my fridge stocked with oranges, grapefruits, papayas, kiwis and strawberries.

Although fruit is nutritious, they cannot replace vegetables and should not be eaten too much due to their high fructose content.

A portion of fruit like a small apple or orange should be taken twice a day between heavy meals.

You might wonder if dietitians would bring ice cream, chocolate or instant noodles home. I assure you that they are really hard to resist.

Speaking of instant noodles, I would recommend those non-fried instant noodles. Their texture is largely similar to that of the fried ones.

In short, there are no absolute good or bad food items but you can categorize them with labels like “relatively high/low in calories” and “more/less nutritious”.

As long as you eat no more or less than you need, you need not worry about what you eat.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 25

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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dietitian at the dietetic unit of Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital

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