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April 27, 2010

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Time to shape up and shed pounds

EAT less, take in fewer calories and exercise. That's the way to lose weight - there are no shortcuts. Zhang Qian weighs in.

As temperatures rise, people are shedding clothes and showing off their bodies. More show up at the gym to shape up, and watch their diet.

We all know how to lose weight: take in fewer calories than you burn. Do this by eating less overall, eating fewer fats, carbohydrates and sweets - but eating a nutritious diet. And exercise regularly.

Women are especially concerned about having a nice figure and many are obsessed with body image. Many women who are not fat think that they are obese. Many healthy women with a normal BMI (body mass index) want to get rid of fat.

"All ladies hate fat arms, fat around their waist, a fat backside and 'elephant legs,' even though their BMI is in the normal range," says Sarah Shen, a beauty counselor at the Shanghai branch of the Hong Kong Sau San Tong Healthy Trim Institute.

Fat around the middle and bottom are especially common among women office workers who spend most of their time sitting and get little exercise, she says. The female body naturally has more fat in the belly to protect the uterus and support pregnancy.

Stress and irregular eating habits can aggravate the problem. Skipping meals leaves people hungry so they often overeat at the next meal.

"Not eating and then eating a big meal is the most terrible thing for your figure," says Shen.

Eat less and exercise more is the golden rule for weight loss.

"People gain fat because they have taken in more nutrition than they can burn, and the excess is stored as fat," says Shen. "They should eat less and exercise more to burn existing fat."

There are many misconceptions about how best to lose weight. Many women think they should not eat protein, so they don't eat any meat or chicken; some say rice and flour are the arch fat-gain criminals; some eliminate almost everything but some fruits. Some hardly eat at all, starving their bodies.

None of this is correct.

Protein, carbohydrates (which are mainly sugars and starches), fats, vitamins, and microelements are all necessary. The body burns carbohydrates and fats for energy.

Carbohydrates help accelerate metabolism. Protein is necessary for good muscle (that doesn't mean bulging) and muscle cells burn more calories than other tissue. Muscle weighs more than fat, so it's possible to lose fat and look much better, but also build some muscle for a better shape. This can mean a net weight gain, though fat is lost.

Protein is necessary for good skin and to keep skin from sagging a lot after significant weight loss.

Yet to achieve the trimming goal, it is advised to reduce the amount of each category but still have a balanced diet with all elements.

Diet counsellor Shen suggests an oil-free breakfast mainly of carbohydrates and protein, and lunch and dinner with a little oil, including carbohydrates, protein and vegetables.

It's all right to eat a late supper but you should not eat within three hours of going to sleep.

Eating healthy foods such as tomatoes, cucumber, pearl barley and turnips can help in weight loss.

Yoko Lino, a nutritionist with Japanese juice company Kagome, says eating tomatoes at night helps accelerate secretion of growth hormone during sleep, thus boosting metabolism.

The fiber and pectin in tomatoes contribute to a full feeling and reduce the desire for food. Lycopene in tomatoes is an anti-oxidant that helps delay signs of aging.

Moderate to intense aerobic exercise (cardio, huffing and puffing) is better than anaerobic exercise (weights, sprinting) for losing fat, says Shen.

Sustained swimming, using a treadmill, jogging, quick walking and hot yoga are effective aerobic exercise. Shen advises at least 30-40 minutes a session as frequently as possible to lose fat. More frequent exercise results in greater fat burning and weight loss.

It's important to stay hydrated when exercising; drink one to two cups of warm water before and after exercising and sip water during a workout.

Mungbean sprouts, very common in Asian cuisine, contain pure forms of vitamins A, B, C and E, in addition to calcium, iron and potassium.

Mungbean sprouts are more nutritious than mung beans, those tiny green beans seen everywhere. The amount of vitamin C increases when the beans sprout and amino acids are produced.

It has a laxative effect and can be part of a healthy weight-loss diet.

Traditional Chinese medicine classifies mungbean sprouts as a "cold" (yin energy) food, like mung beans. It is prescribed in dietary therapy to help dispel pathogen heat and dampness, promote urination, relieve edema, unblock energy channels and benefit the kidneys (reproductive system).

It helps reduce high blood pressure and treat cardio vascular problems. A soup of mungbean sprouts and crucian carp is prescribed to help new mothers lactate.

Since mungbean sprouts are "cold," adding ginger slices while cooking can help neutralize it. A quick pan-fry keeps in the vitamin C; adding vinegar while frying keeps sprouts tasting fresh and crunchy.

Mungbean sprouts, shrimp and Chinese chives (garlic chives)

Ingredients: Mungbean sprouts (400g), Chinese chives (75g), dried shrimps (5g), vinegar (10g), salt


1. Wash and chop chives, remove roots.

2. Heat oil in a pan, add shrimp.

3. Add chives and sprouts and quickly pan-fry, add vinegar and salt.

4. Cook a bit more.

Benefits: Shrimp is rich in calcium and protein. The dish can help in a weight-loss diet and has a laxative effect.

Vinegar and mungbean sprouts

Ingredients: Mungbean sprouts (300g), 10 huajiao (xanthoxylum "prickly ash" seeds), vinegar (40g), sugar (5g), salt, starch, green onions


1. Remove sprout roots. Dip quickly in boiling water and remove, cool in cold water, filter.

2. Add seeds to heated oil in pan.

3. Remove seeds and add green onions and sprouts and quickly pan-fry.

4. Add salt, sugar, vinegar and cover with starchy sauce.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, acts as diuretic, helps relieve high blood pressure. Part of a healthy weight-loss diet.


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