When it comes to maintaining a well-balanced and nutritious diet, living in Hong Kong certainly doesn’t make it easy. With fast food options left, right, and everywhere, we often end up choosing convenience over health to cater to our busy lifestyles, which in the long-run can lead to health problems and dietary issues. So what can we do?
Well, there’s certainly no shortage of dietary advice out there, but the overwhelming amount of information available is more likely to just leave us feeling confused and defeated. So to help clear things up, we speak with experienced Naturopathic doctor Philip Watkins from Integrated Medicine Institute (IMI) to gather some helpful tips on how to eat our way to a healthier life in the 852.
Are You Nutrient Deficient?
In a study conducted in 2014, up to 97% of people in Hong Kong fell below the World Health Organisation’s recommended nutrient intake for essential minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron? According to Watkins, dietary deficiencies are becoming more widespread in the city, which is mainly seen in adults, but also in “fussy kids” who are convinced that they only need to eat carrots in order to be healthy and refuse to eat anything else. The truth is, when it comes to staying healthy in Hong Kong, the trick is to encourage diversity in your diet as much as possible. This keeps things from being boring too, because after all, variety is the spice of life!
Change It Up
Watkins maintains that in order to add more nutrients into your daily diet, it is important to try and keep up with the 5 A Day rule and add a variety of fruits and vegetables to your plate. “One way is to turn it into something fun and play a game with your friends, partner, or family where you try one new dish on a menu or recipe at home that you’ve never tried before every week, working new fruits and vegetables into the mix”, he says. “It is best to try a variety of things and move towards a diet that is diverse and nutritionally substantial”, he explains. “I have said to my patients before that often times what you don’t have is more important than what you do have.”
So aside from getting essential nutrients from your avocados and kale salads, try not to stick to one thing just because it’s easy and you’re familiar with it, slowly add other things onto your plate, even if it’s just a few pine nuts or an extra glass of fresh fruit smoothie. Watkins also suggests applying this to the different types of protein you eat, such as trying fish if you mainly eat chicken.
Set Yourself A Challenge
Humans are creatures of habit, and according to Watkins, one factor that prevents us from mixing up our diet is our tendency to stick to a familiar routine. “Sometimes this is conscious”, he explains, “For example, when we pick our favourite meal at our favourite restaurant, or a little more subconscious, for example, when we rotate the same five vegetables in every meal over the course of a week.” He suggests that an easy way to challenge this idea, especially from a fruits and vegetables angle, is to challenge yourself to go vegetarian or vegan for a fortnight to get out of your comfort zone.
Limit The Junk Food
Junk food — we’ve all been there, whether we have a sudden sugar craving or we’re simply in need of some comfort food. With moderation it’s okay to indulge and treat yourself every now and then, but recent studies have shown an increasing risk of obesity among children and teenagers in Hong Kong as they become more and more connected with western junk food cultures which leads them to become “overfed and under-nourished”.
Watkins explains that while students in Hong Kong possess a good knowledge of healthy eating options, this does not necessarily align with what they chose to put on their plate, as they turn to burgers and fries and other nutritionally empty foods instead which are high in refined sugars and carbohydrates. As a result, these choices are driving the obesity levels up, putting them more at risk of serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes — even at a young age. Not “lovin’ it” so much now, are we Big Mac fans?
Boost Your Immunity
So you’re eating healthy and you’ve cut down on the junk food, but nothing seems to be working? Well, put on a face mask because it turns out that high levels of air pollution exposure could be one of the reason why! “Environmental toxins can have an effect on the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as adding an additional load into the liver, which is intimately linked with the digestive process,” Watkins explains.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to offset the effects of air pollution, and one of them is to begin taking supplements. “Research has shown that taking around 400-600mg of Vitamin C and just three Omega-3 capsules of a good quality fish oil can help increase the body’s natural defenses when it comes to protection from the dangerous implications of air pollution exposure”, Watkins says. “The great thing being that with that protection also comes the added benefits of a boosted immunity from the Vitamin C and the potential anti-inflammatory action from the fish oil.” So there you have it — it might be time to visit your local health store.
Embrace The Change
Whatever advice you decide to take on board, at the end of the day, just remember to take things at your own pace, stick to it, and most importantly have fun with it. To make things a little easier for you, here are five simple but effective dietary tips from doctor Phil: