Category Archives: Nutrition

Asian Fruits & Vegetables: Which Are Healthier?

Last week I posted a very popular piece discussing the nutrition levels in dim sum. This week we will discuss yet another very useful study from the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety, this time reviewing asian fruits and vegetables (Centre for Food Safety – Risk Assessment Studies – Nutrient Values of Fruit and Vegetables) I think it’s an essential PDF for all to print out and share with colleagues and family. Continue reading Asian Fruits & Vegetables: Which Are Healthier?

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

Fruits & Veggies: How Many Servings Do You Need? (And How Much Is A "Serving", Anyway?)

Everyone always hears that you need multiple servings of fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet. I remember the older food pyramid recommending 5 servings a day; a couple years ago that increased to 8-9 servings per day. Wow, the idea of 8-9 servings a day of anything is discouraging enough to make me want to hide in the corner with a box of Twinkies. But who even understands what exactly is “one serving”? Read on and find out…

There’s a great website from the US CDC called “Fruits and Veggies Matter“. The website has a lot of resources for consumers as well as health professionals, including a really fun and useful “Analyze My Plate” interactive menu where you can drag-and-drop foods. And the best news is they’ve made it easier to understand “servings” as a more user-friendly “cup” portion. The front page has a nice calculator to determine how many cups a day you need. For example, I did the calculator and got instant recommendations that I need 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables every day. I find that a lot more approachable than the generic “8-9 total servings a day”. Also, they have a nice group of photos that show exactly how much each portion counts as a cup. It’s great and very readable information that you can easily show children as well. For example, 1 small banana in cereal = 1/2 cup:

1 small banana = 1/2 cup

Fruits & Veggies Can Lower Blood Pressure

Now is as good a time as any to replay my slideshow on high blood pressure, the world’s #1 killer. People may not realize that diet alone can lower blood pressure! This slideshow below discusses all the healthy, non-prescription ways to lower your risk for blood pressure. I strongly recommend you watch it full-screen; just click on the “full” icon below the slide.

Are Organics More Nutritious? Maybe Not.

Many people assume that organics are more nutritious, but that debate is far from settled. In fact, the best recent evidence shows that most organic food has the same nutrition as non-organic. The most recent evidence is from the most comprehensive review so far on this subject, run by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, called Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review — American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and published in August. They reviewed every major published article over the last 50 years, and their findings may surprise you:

Results: From a total of 52,471 articles, we identified 162 studies (137 crops and 25 livestock products); 55 were of satisfactory quality. In an analysis that included only satisfactory-quality studies, conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen, and organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity. No evidence of a difference was detected for the remaining 8 of 11 crop nutrient categories analyzed. Analysis of the more limited database on livestock products found no evidence of a difference in nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced livestock products.

Conclusions: On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

There are more links from the UK Food Standards Agency here, as well as PDFs of the above literature. There is also an excellent review of organics and food safety from one of my favorite sites, the Hong Kong Center for Food Safety. They also state evidence that doesn’t show much nutritional difference between organics and non-organics.

Bottom Line?

This article is the most comprehensive look so far at this issue, and the results are strong. However, there are many other reasons why people may choose organic, including environmental protection as well as better handling of bred animals. I choose organics mostly for food safety concerns. There are many concerns regarding not just proper chemical/pesticide use, but also improper wastewater irrigation, and food storage and handling. So I feel more comfortable buying organic or GreenFood from larger supermarkets as I assume there is much more government/private oversight of these products.

Read More…

Read more previous posts on organics.