Michelle Lau is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MSc.). She holds a first-class degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of British Columbia and a Postgraduate Degree in Human Nutrition from McGill University. She is also a Hong Kong-based nutrition educator who works on a variety of projects and areas of nutrition: health writer, TV and radio personality, and the founder of NUTRILICIOUS, a nutrition consultancy and communications company that specializes in sports nutrition, weight management, female nutrition, pediatric and maternal nutrition. Her work has been published in newspapers, magazines, and other media locally and regionally. As an avid runner and obsessive home baker, she appreciates and prioritizes balance in all areas of life. Her motto: “Life is so endlessly delicious.”
Nutrition and eating certain foods are an important part of the Chinese lifestyle. Can you give us some healthy eating tips from this perspective?
The key principles to healthy eating are variety, moderation, and balance. To properly nourish the body, I would recommend people eating a varied diet, rich in whole grains, lean protein such as chicken, beans, lots of fruits and vegetables, and some healthy fats to reap the benefits of different types of nutrients.
When eating out at Chinese restaurants, aim for a suitable amount of food according to the number of people attending the feast and their appetite. Try ordering fewer dishes for a start, and place additional orders of rice, noodles or other dishes later on when needed to avoid ordering more than what is needed, which may cause overheating.
When holding a banquet, order for one to two vegetarian dishes to meet the taste of different guests and encourage everyone to eat more vegetables.
Reduce the use of condiments available on the table, such as salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauce, and chili oil.
Michelle Lau is one of the most highly regarded nutritionists in Hong Kong. She helps improve health with the best type of diet, giving nutritional advice through a personalized nutritional healing program.
How much are people concerned about healthy food? What are the main changes in people’s food habits?
People in Hong Kong/China are increasingly becoming more health-conscious which leads to a gradual shift towards eating more plant-based foods. However, the Chinese diet remains relatively high in sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. In addition, people are more concerned about food safety and the environment so consumers are also buying organic produce.
Nowadays breakfasts are very different all over the world. From your opinion what should never be missing for a healthy breakfast?
A healthy breakfast should contain a good combination of both protein and carbohydrates to kick start a good start to a day. Because protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, it gives you a steady supply of energy to perform at your best until lunch. The brain needs energy (glucose from carbohydrates) to function and keep the brain sharp and focus for the rest of the day. Food example, whole-grain toast with scrambled eggs.
Despite large fast-food chains have adapted their menus to Chinese local tastes, their food is very different from traditional Chinese cuisine. How much have these influenced Chinese eating habits in the last years?
I think it’s a two-way street, whilst these chains are adapting their menus to local tastes, locals are more willing to try westernized/international cuisine as long as they are well marketed, taste and look great. These chains have definitely influenced Chinese eating habits in recent years and are not exactly helping the locals with improving their dietary choices as the food offerings tend to be rather greasy, high in calories, sodium, and sugar.
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Michelle Lau provides nutritional advice for different kind of purposes, whether those who aim to manage or lose weight, or has some specific medical conditions like allergies, chronic diseases, pediatric, pregnant and breastfeeding, or are on vegetarian or vegan diet, etc
For work reasons, many people often eat outside. Do you have any advice on not getting to meals with an excessive appetite?
Eating the right snack before heading to dinner gatherings can help you stay the course rather than give in to every dish at dinner. The most satisfying snacks have protein, fiber, or both to help keep blood sugar levels in check. Food examples a hard-boiled egg, a piece of fruit.
Chinese meals tend to be large and might include second and third helpings. Portion the foods using a spoon (eg. a spoonful) onto the plate and share the dishes with the others at the table.
Many studies prove that one of the secrets of longevity is linked to healthy foods. Which are the best foods that slow down aging?
Health foods such as foods that are rich in anti-aging nutrients/antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, E, selenium, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein. Other nutrients to include in the diet to slow down aging include omega-3s, unsaturated fats (the good kind), fiber, and protein. Food examples: colorful fruits and vegetables, oily fish, eggs, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and seeds.
Her mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of Hongkongers to enjoy every bite in the journey with different health/nutritional needs and goals and ultimately lead them to a healthier and happier life.
Compared to the West, Asian older people are more active. Is their secret in good nutrition and not overeating?
Asian elderly tend to walk a lot more, given that they are still mobile, especially those living in Hong Kong. They also eat light meals such as steamed vegetables, boiled soups, some meat/fish, and rice/congee and almost never eat to clean the table. Moreover, they tend to have a very early dinner which also gives them more time to digest the food and some of them would go for a walk after dinner.
How much evening snacks affect our bodies? In Asia, street food and Shao Kao are an important part of food culture. What can you tell us about this habit?
Evening snacking can affect the body, both negatively/positively, depending on what the foods are. Good evening snacks such as small fruit, a glass of warm milk, a handful of nuts, a cup of hot cereal might help people sleep better and provide the fuel for a quick morning workout. Street foods and Shao Kao at night markets/on the streets are often deep-fried, chock full of chemicals, oil, and other unhealthy ingredients. Having late-night snacking has been part of the Chinese culture for decades, where friends would get together for a good laugh and food and to socialize. Not to mention, the majority of people in Hong Kong, especially the youth and blue collars, tend to stay out/up till late night, hence late-night snacking has become a common habit.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Lau
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Ciao! My name is Dominique. I’m Italian and I’m proud to be a mix. My father was an Italian chemical engineer and high school teacher, with Greek and Polish heritage. My mother is Haitian, she was high school language teacher, with Dominican, Spanish, French, Portuguese, African and Native American heritage. Being a mix makes me appreciate to want to understand different cultures and lifestyles. I grew up in Italy, lived few years in Haiti, travel around main European capitals, lived seven years in China, six in Spain and UK. Traveling makes me feel that we can learn something from every situation in every part of the world.