Dim Sum: How Nutritious Is It?

I love dim sum, and although it’s too bad that Beijing doesn’t serve it in the charming style of wheeling around carts, it still is a great tasting weekend brunch. I’ve always wondered about the oil content and feel a bit too heavy if I don’t also drink tea. So, how healthy (or unhealthy) is dim sum?

My favorite public health food website anywhere is one I’ve mentioned often: the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety. Their multimedia library has literally hundreds of fascinating and extremely useful information on food, often in both Chinese and English.  In one section I found an outstanding detailed analysis of 71 dim sum dishes.  It’s crammed with interesting tables and graphs that any food lover will find fascinating, as well as useful, the next time you go for dim sum. Their main conclusions in the abstract confirmed my fears:

The results showed that the total fat, saturated fat and sodium contents of some Chinese dim sum were quite high, whilst the calcium and dietary fibre contents were generally low. A balanced diet can be achieved by choosing food carefully during a dim sum meal in Chinese restaurants. Members of the public are recommended to choose Chinese dim sum that are low in total fat and rich in complex carbohydrate as the staple foods; consume about half plate of boiled vegetable per person (preferably without sauce); consume steamed salty dim sum in moderate amount; choose less pan-fried and deep-fried dim sum and avoid consuming the soup of rice-in-soup and noodles-in-soup. Chinese restaurant patrons are also advised to have one to two servings of low-fat/skimmed dairy products for the rest of the day to ensure adequate intake of calcium. Food trade is advised to modify the recipes of Chinese dim sum to lower the total fat, saturated fat and sodium levels in foods and provide more food items high in dietary fibre and calcium in the menu.

Well, there you go. It’s not like I didn’t know it before, but now I can’t pretend I didn’t (too bad! Sometimes knowledge is a mixed blessing). Of course, the key to eating well is to choose well from the menu and balance things out, as well as to be aware that the sauces also can have extremely high levels of salt — especially soy sauce.

I definitely still plan to eat dim sum, but perhaps I’ll be a bit more careful as to which are safer. Indeed, the survey provides excellent details, in Chinese and english, as to exactly which dim sum is better than others. They also provide specific recommendations for healthier meals, for example this meal for two:

1. Chinese dim sum menu for 2 people (e.g. a couple):

Steamed lotus seed paste and egg yolk bun (蛋黃蓮蓉包), 3 piece
Steamed rice-roll with beef (牛肉腸粉), 3 rolls
Steamed vegetarian dumpling (蒸素粉果), 3 pieces
Steamed pork dumpling, Shanghai style (小籠包), 3 pieces
Boiled Chinese flowering cabbage (白灼菜心), 1 plate

Highlights of the menu
‧ Choosing steamed bun and rice roll as staples
‧ Sharing 1 plate of boiled vegetables by 2 people
‧ Consuming moderate amount of steamed salty dim sum

Follow me on:
Twitter @RichardStCyrMD
Facebook @BainbridgeBabaDoc
Photography: richardsaintcyr.com

2 thoughts on “Dim Sum: How Nutritious Is It?”

  1. I'm going to send this to my sister who is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer. I'd be curious for her take on the matter, but I like what you said about balancing it out — and the thing Stephanie (her name) would say is this: "Keep changing it up."

    Thanks again, Doc!

  2. appetite got wet up from reading this, big dim-sum fan, and only thing, apart fr friends, that i miss from living in shenzhen…wasn't aware of its inconvenient nutrition truth thou, couldn't care too much when the steamy-yummy Hagau is served up…

Leave a Reply