Chinese food, like chocolate, is often deemed a ‘treat’; a sinful indulgence we guiltily experience, as if it were devoid of nutritional value. The chocolate myth was busted long ago, with studies proving its powerful benefits for the heart and its utility as an aid in weight loss. Chinese cuisine still has to catch up in this sense, since most people still think ‘feast’ instead of ‘meal’ when they opt for Chinese. In this post we feature a few simple ways to get the greatest nutritional value out of your next meal, without letting your health and fitness routine go by the wayside.
- Make it Authentic: Diners who first frequent a Chinese restaurant in another country can easily think that ‘the real thing’ consists of deep-fried meat and fish dishes, smothered in rich sauces and served with heavy, fried, sweet bread rolls. In fact, a traditional Chinese meal comprises only 20 per cent of meat, with vegetarian dishes taking the lion’s share of the table space. Veggies are usually stir-fried in a wok, so they are able to retain their crisp texture and high nutritional content. Steaming and braising are two additional methods of cooking, which ensure that meals are delicious but low in fat. Anyone on a sensible portion-controlled diet will find it easy to meat their match at a good Chinese restaurant. Opt for steamed rice rather than fried, fill up on veg rather than on meat and start your meal with a light salad instead of a deep fried spring roll. Ask your favourite restaurant if they have brown rice, since it is richer in Vitamins B3, B1, B6 (and contains more manganese, phosphorous and iron) than white rice. If you are unsure as to the true nutritional value of dishes which seem healthy at first sight, blogs like weightlosswars.com will shed light on the matter. As kwikmed.org notes, the site’s “advice ranges from how to avoid food that seems to be healthy, but has hidden dangers, such as sugars and artificial additives”.
- Don’t Pass On the Soup: Soup is normally served at all Chinese meals, and is an excellent way to stay hydrated without having to drink copious amounts of water. Soup will also add to your sense of satiety, so that you will be less tempted to fill up on more calorie-dense dishes.
- Eat Until You are Satisfied, Toss the Calorie Book: The problem with diets which restricts us in terms of the number of calories or amount of carbohydrates we can consume, is that they are simply begging to be broken. In China, calorie counting is not the norm; rather, the aim is to consume a healthy balance of proteins, carbohydrates on fat, filling up mainly on vegetables and steamed or wok-cooked proteins. Try to focus on variety in color, texture and flavor rather than on calorie counting. After all, countless products (including diet drinks and sugar-free gum) have zero calories yet lack any nutritional value at all, while so called ‘high-calorie’ snacks, like walnuts or raw chocolate, have been proven to promote heart health, fight oxidative stress and improve the functioning of the immune system.
- Choose Wisely: Some of the most powerful foods in the world can be found in the most unsuspecting dishes. Take garlic, chilli and ginger. Don’t shy away from their strong flavour, since they house potent antioxidants that can help stave off everything from the common cold to heart disease. Make sure you head for an authentic Chinese restaurant that gives due importance to fresh, seasonal ingredients. Some of the healthiest options include steamed (rather than fried) spring rolls and dumplings, a plate of stir-fried mixed vegetables and wok-cooked chicken.
- End Your Meal on a Green Note: Once you have satisfied your hunger, try skipping a sweet dessert in favour of a soothing cup of green tea. The latter is one of the world’s riches sources of polyphenol antioxidants, in particular, a catechin known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which is thought to be the source of green tea’s powerful health benefits. Studies have shown that green tea lowers the risk of death due to all causes, including cancer and heart disease. Green tea has also been proven to lower the risk of breast cancer, prevent coronary artery disease and inhibit atherosclerosis.
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