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September 22, 2009

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Harried white collars skip all-important first meal

TOO many white collars miss breakfast. A survey shows many young professionals think farmers lead better lives because they eat three square meals a day. Zhang Qian tucks in. Grabbing her bag and stepping into her high heels, 26-year-old Lucy Chen dashes out of the front door. She has to be at work in 30 minutes and once again she has no time for breakfast.

"It is not that I don't want to have breakfast, but having more sleep in the morning seems more important," says Chen, who works as a secretary.

Chen is hardly a rare case. Giving up breakfast for more sleep is common among young professionals in Shanghai, especially for those who live far from work and need to arrive early.

Similarly, proper lunch and dinner are often sacrificed for what young white collars see as more important work.

According to a survey on Shanghai white collars' satisfaction and health, almost 80 percent consider their lives worse than those of farmers. Not being able to have meals on time is a major factor in their dissatisfaction.

The survey by Interface Asian-Holden covered about 30,000 white collars around People's Square, Zhongshan Park, Shanghai Railway Station and Pudong's Lujiazui area.

Of those dissatisfied with their lives, 43 percent said they wanted to eat three regular meals on time, "the way farmers do." They also cited urban problems such as irregular work hours and lack of sleep, pollution, traffic and psychological pressure to get ahead.

"I do feel hungry and want to have lunch. But when your boss orders a report on his desk before noon, what can you do?" says 28-year-old Karen Liu, who works in the marketing department of a foreign-invested company.

Liu says she eats some biscuits if she's really hungry, but most of the time she doesn't eat until her work is done.

The report shows that about 50 percent of white collars do not eat breakfast every day; 56 percent cannot be sure of a normal lunch; 42 percent cannot eat dinner on time; more than five percent don't eat dinner until 8:30pm. Fourteen percent eat late at night.

As for other health aspects, 68 percent of white collars say that they get sick from time to time and four percent had serious ailments requiring hospitalization.

Many reported they were bothered by fatigue, ulcers, bad breath and acne. They also reported frequent digestive problems like constipation, vomiting and diarrhea.

The research found that digestive problems bothered people aged 25 to 36 more often than people of other ages. Neglecting to eat meals on time is considered a major factor.

Eating three meals a day on time is essential for adult health, according to Professor Yang Kefeng of the Nutrition Department of the Medical School of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

In terms of quantity, 30 percent of a day's intake should be at breakfast, 40 percent at lunch and 30 percent at dinner. Eating too much may lead to obesity while eating too little or skipping meals may result in digestion problems.

Breakfast is very important, though it doesn't need to be as big as lunch. You need carbohydrates for energy, as well as protein.

"Breakfast is the first meal of the day. Your stomach is empty since you had dinner the night before," says Professor Yang. "You need food for energy for the day's work."

Lack of energy and nutrition can led to problems in concentration and slower reaction during the day.

Skipping breakfast can also lead to gall stones, says Yang. Bile from the gall bladder is highly concentrated after a night of no food. Skipping breakfast aggravates the problem. The bile stored for a long period can become gall stones, he says.

"Breakfast should provide balanced nutrition that you need for the morning," says Yang. "Carbohydrate and protein are essential, plus some fiber and vitamins."

There is no nutrition difference between a Chinese-style breakfast of congee or Western-style meal of toast or cereal. Both provide carbohydrates.

Eggs, meat and dairy products provide protein; fruit and vegetables provide fiber and contain antioxidant vitamins.

Yogurt is recommended for nutrition and regulating the digestive system, especially hanfang (Chinese prescription) herbal yogurt.

Apart from three major meals, small nutritious snacks help keep the system fueled - like a midmorning snack and afternoon tea.

An afternoon snack at around 4pm is especially useful for white collars working long hours in high-pressure jobs, says Dr Zhou Deming, chief physician of the traditional Chinese Medicine Massage Department of Yueyang Hospital. Eating itself is also a relaxation.

Bread, biscuits, cookies, yogurt and fruit are all good for an afternoon snacks. Sweet deserts are okay in moderation.

Dr Zhou recommends hanfang congee and other related products, together with fruits, which are more suitable for Asian people, and help balance internal energy.

For example, lotus seeds and lily root can help relieve pathogenic heat; jujube, white fungus and gouqi (wolfberries) can help nourish yin energy; pearl barley, longan and black-kernel rice help strengthen primary energy.


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