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Tips to Prepare Healthy, Traditional Chinese Dishes

Posted on Jan 23, 2012

Did you know that 12 percent of patients who call the Palo Alto Medical Foundation their medical home are of Chinese descent?  In honor of them and the Chinese New Year, PAMF would like to share some nutritional information to help you make good dietary choices. Start the Year of the Dragon off right by eating healthy and paving the way to a long life by improving your diet.  Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Food is extremely central to Chinese culture and identity. Unfortunately, many loved and commonly eaten Chinese dishes are not ideal for your health. It’s not that you can’t have these dishes, such as roasted pork or duck on special occasions. Rather, there are small changes to your food preparation and diet that you can take to improve your health and your family’s health.

When you walk into a Chinese restaurant in the United States today, many menus are full of meat-centered, oily meals.  However, these choices do not represent the traditional Chinese diet. Traditionally, steamed vegetables have been a main staple of Chinese food. These steamed vegetables and tea, combined with only occasional red meat and minimal fried food, led to immense health benefits for Chinese people. One study showed that only 20 percent of a traditional Chinese meal consists of animal foods. This traditional Chinese diet (plant-based) has been shown to be one of the main factors in decreased rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity among rural Chinese people.

When you are cooking a meal or going out to a restaurant, remember that there are many options that are both healthy and authentic Chinese food. Try to choose a low-sodium, low-fat vegetable dish.

Suggestions for Healthy Chinese Dishes and Modifications

The key to successful lifestyle changes is to identify healthy choices that you can consistently follow. Instead of entirely removing certain foods from your diet, here is a list of small changes you can make in order to improve your diet and health.

Eat your favorite high-salt or high-fat food less frequently.

  • Instead of eating your favorite (salty or oily) dish every day or once a week, only eat it once a month as a special treat. Get your family on board to designate one day a month for your favorite dish, and stick to vegetable-based dishes for the rest of the month.
  • Consider saving these dishes for big events, like family banquets.
  •  Decrease soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce use in preparing your favorite meal. Decrease chili and hot sauce use. Instead, choose dried, crushed, or freshly sliced pepper. Avoid MSG.

Reduce the amount of cooking oil you use.

  • You can make important cooking changes in your own preparation of food. Instead of frying food with cooking oil, try steaming, boiling, roasting, or stewing your food with alternative ingredients. For example, instead of cooking oil, use soy juice, rice wine, tomato juice, ginger, garlic, pepper, or a wide range of other low-to-no-fat seasonings and cooking ingredients.

The goal  is to make small changes in your cooking preparation and diet and stick to them–these small steps can go a long way!

This blog post is one of a two-part series. We invite you to visit the PAMF blog tomorrow to learn about more changes you can make to eat healthier!

A group of PAMF physicians from the Cardiology, Hematology, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Urgent Care Departments contributed to this blog post. They are Doctors  Enoch Choi, Amy Lin, Terence Lin, Albert Wang, Angela Wong, Sandra Wong and Edmund Tai.