Congee, Rice & Noodles: Which Are Healthiest?

Have you ever wondered just how healthy is a morning Chinese breakfast of zhou (congee, in Hong Kong)? What about most noodle and rice dishes? Yet again, the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety has given us the data.

This issue is very relevant all over Asia, as these are major staples in a majority of diets, both for breakfast and for lunch. And there is concern that an unbalanced diet may be one reason for the rise in cardiovascular disease. In this 2006 study (Centre for Food Safety – Risk Assessment Studies – Nutrient Values of Indigenous Congee, Rice and Noodle Dishes), they analyzed 110 local dishes for nutritional content. The samples were from tea restaurants (茶餐廳), fast food shops, Chinese restaurants (中式酒樓), Chinese noodle stalls (中式粉麵店) and Chinese congee stalls (中式粥店). Their main finding is here:

The results showed that most of them contained carbohydrate as the main source of energy. It was found that the calcium content of these foods were generally low, whilst their sodium content was on the high side.

A balanced diet can be achieved by choosing food carefully while having indigenous congee, rice and noodle dishes. Members of the public are recommended to consume suitable amount of food according to their needs; choose the foods with adequate amount of vegetables; use low-fat cooking methods; minimize intake of sauces; and choose steamed rice instead of fried rice for meal set with rice for patrons who want to cut down energy and fat intake. Patrons frequently consuming these foods are also advised to have one to two servings of low-fat/skimmed dairy products and adequate fruits for the rest of the day to ensure adequate intake of calcium and other important nutrients.

In general, the congee dishes were relatively low in total calories and fat but had little fiber. Noodles-in-soup dishes had very high levels of salt, which can raise blood pressure. Many rice dishes also had high sodium, and the fried rice dishes had excessive fat.

Other Studies

The same Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety has a whole series of nutrition articles, one on dim sum and another on asian fruits and vegetables. Great stuff…

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