While holidays are for feasting, overeating and gaining weight can put one’s health at risk. To help people prepare delicious and nutritional meals, a number of food and nutrition experts offered tips on picking the right ingredients and the best way to cook them.
Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) show that in 2008, 44.1 percent of the nation’s adult population qualified as overweight or obese, which means their body mass index (BMI) was over 24.
The BMI is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters.
Eating healthy is important not only for those who might be overweight, but to all people, as it can protect their liver, kidneys and heart and strengthen their immune system, said Tsai Mei-chih (蔡美芝), a nutritionist at the Danshui branch of the Mackay Memorial Hospital.
This means eating food that is low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat, Tsai said.
Studies have shown that high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, strokes, stomach cancer and respiratory problems are all related to the consumption of too much salt.
As a general guideline when choosing ingredients, one should avoid artificially processed or preserved foods such as sausages, smoked ham, pickled vegetables and various types of fish paste used in hot pots. Instead, choose fresh produce to keep sodium consumption at a minimum, Tsai said.
When it comes to flavoring, she recommends avoiding heavily salted sauces such as ketchup, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and various forms of “essences” that come in the form of powder or paste such as essence of chicken, beans and beef. Rather than adding these high-sodium flavoring, try freshly squeezed juices from lemons, pineapples or vinegar for acidity, or mushrooms, seaweed, onions, parsley, coriander or vanilla for aroma.
For even more variety, garlic, ginger, pepper and anise are all good alternatives to oversalting meals, Tsai said.
Once one has chosen fresh produce as ingredients and the right kind of seasoning, the next step is cooking them the right way, preferably by steaming, baking or boiling.
“Foods that are pickled, smoked, stewed or fried can easily increase sodium and calorie intake,” she said, adding that many people often consume more calories than they think because even though they chose the right ingredients, their methods of preparing the food were misguided.
Chin Hui-min (金惠民), chairperson of the Chinese Federation of Dietitians Association, said that calorie intake also hinges on the amount and type of snacks we consume.
Over the holidays, it is common to see families talk about their year over bowls of nuts, cookies or fried snacks. While nuts are preferred over other snacks that contain little nutritional value but are high in fat, and carbohydrates like candies, pastries and rice crackers, nutritionists warn against overconsumption.
Chin said eating 100g of macadamia nuts would mean taking in more than 700 calories, which is equivalent to eating about three bowls of rice.
Walnuts, almonds, sesame, peanuts, cashews and pistachios, although nutritious, can also cause weight gain if people pop them in their mouths one after another while lounging around on the couch watching TV or talking to family members.
“That said, nuts are still an essential part of a balanced diet,” Chin said.