The mid-autumn festival, traditionally marking the end of the autumn harvest, falls on 10 September this year. To celebrate, Chinese around the world buy or make mooncakes to enjoy with family over tea.
In Singapore, there are choices abound with restaurants, hotels and confectioners offering numerous textures, flavours, colours and their own variations of this traditional dessert. If you are looking to indulge in some mooncakes this Mid-Autumn festival, read on to find out how you can do so the healthier way!
What’s in a mooncake?
A traditional mooncake typically contains:
More modern versions incorporate flavours from across the world, from strawberry to durian, chocolate to matcha.
What about ‘healthier-choice’ mooncakes?
When it comes to nutrition, mooncakes generally tell the same story, even the so-called “healthier” versions. Despite some retailers now using healthier oils or less sugar in recipes, each regular full-sized mooncake still contains about 900 calories.
This is almost half (or may even exceed half) the average person’s daily requirement of about 1500 to 2000 calories, depending on size and activity levels.
Snowskin mooncakes are often mistakenly assumed to be healthier as they feel lighter and less oily – however this is usually false as all types of mooncakes still use significant amounts of oil and sugar in both the filling and the skin.
Most mooncakes advertised as “healthier-choice” are of the reduced-sugar variety. Exactly how much less sugar they contain is unknown, as most retailers do not publish their nutrition information.
One should note, however, that manufacturers still need to make sure the product tastes good, and thus there is a limit to how much they can reduce the sugar content.
Even with reduced sugar, the largest contributor to a mooncake’s calories is the fat content (usually from oil or lard). The dearth of “low fat” mooncakes on the market is testament to the fact that it is impossible to reduce fat without seriously impairing texture and mouthfeel.
This largely explains why, despite the reduced sugar, mooncakes are still calorie bombs which can contribute to weight gain if not eaten sparingly. Instead of zeroing in on mooncake sugar content, one should consider the big picture, which is the quality of the food choice and its place in the overall diet.
No matter what “healthy” ingredients are used or how much less sugar is used, mooncakes are still very calorie-dense foods which are generally nutrient-poor. No matter how you slice it, they should still be considered desserts or snacks and portion-controlled accordingly.
How to enjoy mooncakes in a more healthy way
This doesn’t mean that you have to skip out on mooncakes entirely. After all, the Mid-Autumn festival only occurs once a year, and indulging in these sweet treats in moderation is fine as long as you maintain a healthy diet .
Knowing that mooncakes are very high in fat and carbohydrates (from both sugar and flour), one can consider the following steps to make room for them:
Have the mooncake as a dessert after a healthy balanced meal, instead of taking them on an empty stomach
Controlling portions to ⅛ cake, or a maximum of ¼, at a time (in total, even if sampling multiple mooncakes)
Choosing lower fat/ lower oil meals
Keeping carbohydrate portions under control at meals; a standard serving is about a rice bowl of rice/ noodles per meal. Reducing rice portions to about ¾ bowl will help make room for the carbohydrates in your mooncake
Enjoy other foods such as pomelo and pumpkin seeds along with the mooncakes – while moderation is always key, these can be healthier alternatives
Consume wisely! The consequences of indulging in mooncakes can last much longer than the festivities themselves. Practising moderation and maintaining a balanced diet will allow for indulgence without compromising on health.
If you would like more guidance on nutrition and or designing the right diet plan that takes into account your medical condition(s), lifestyle, and eating habits, attend a Medical Nutrition Therapy session with a dietitian today!