What I eat

I went into a fairly lengthy discussion with a friend the other day about food scares and such in China these days. It’s nothing new that every month (or less than that!) something is wrong with a certain food grown here. I’m fairly concerned about this, and try to avoid these if I can.  That said, it is hard to tell food quality regardless of the news that circulates.  So what to do? How do people maintain a high quality diet here?  I’ve worked and tweaked my food shopping habits over the years I’ve been here, and it’s worked fairly well for me. So I’m sharing my list here in case anyone is interested, or is trying to eat local foods without totally relying on imports.

What I avoid eating here:

-local milk (too many news articles about the melamine tainted milk scandal out there, go have a look! Plus any milk here is of the powdered variety, even if you buy it in cartons) and any food with milk ingredients, such as chocolate, yoghurt, cakes, ice cream locally produced butter,etc.

-eggs : I was allergic to them once, so I avoided that for obvious reasons. Now, its’ mostly because of the quality I’ve found: many eggs you find in local markets are fertilized. My husband and I bought many eggs so our students can dye them for Easter, but threw 2/3 away because of this issue. And this happened more than once!

-generic oil: it used to make me sooooo sick

-juice produced here: they put more sugar in it than a can of cola!

-stock: they make it out of chicken bullion and fat, and the veggie one is NOT veggie. It’s also full of other crap that you just don’t want in your body

-locally packed salted nuts: they’ve also got more sugar than salt. crazy.

-seafood: a lot of the ‘fresh’ fish you see at wet markets are defrosted fish (unless you literally see them swimming in tanks, of course!). I suspect sometimes they refreeze and re-thaw their products if they don’t sell it that day.  Shellfish here has gotten my husband and I very sick, especially oysters.

-“organic” veggies/meat: labeling in China is never reliable, plus they jack up their prices and I can’t justify paying it.

Things I buy in Chinese supermarkets/local wet markets:

-veggies and fruit (I tend to avoid the melons unless husband shares with me, but we’ve stopped buying watermelons because of the scandal recently) –>better to buy in morning if you can, and buy the day you need to use them, unless your fridge is big enough. On busy days I make sure to have my veggies three days in advance of me needing to use them. When the weather is hotter, I have to be very picky about the quality, if I’m not liking what I see, I go to a large chain supermarket because I know they at least air condition the place, and the veggies are at least not subjected to the humidity/heat that much.

-tofu: I try to avoid soy as much as I can (I’m fearful they’re GMO, and I’m not too comfortable about that), but they’ve got a variety here, my personal preference is fresh tofu skins and the firm kinds.

-ground pork (ONLY if it is winter time here AND it is very early in the morning, even then I take a lot of precautions)

-I would like to try buying a whole fresh chicken here, but not sure hubby will go for it

-chilli oil (only well known brands, and after thoroughly checking the labels to make sure there aren’t any preservatives)

-brown rice

-dried beans (though I have to watch out, once I had ones that were really old and starting to sprout)

-cumin seeds and ground cumin (though gotta watch packaging to make sure there aren’t any ‘fillers’)

-dried chilli flakes

-raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds

-rice noodles

-green tea bags

-soy sauce (stick to sell known brands)

-local honey/bee pollen

Things I buy from imported shops:

-chicken breasts (hard to find in Chinese stores)  and thighs

-ground beef/pork (safer)

-pickled veggies (we are quite partial to pickles and jalapenos when we get a bit homesick)

-canned tuna

-dried beans (like chickpeas and lentils)

-spices, dried and fresh (oregano, dill, basil, rosemary, cumin, coriander, paprika)

-cereal (hubby loves for breakfast)

-rice/soy milk (still trying avoid dairy as much as I can, and it’s a decent alternative)

-unsalted pistachios

-some veggies (red and yellow bell peppers are a favourite)

-whole wheat pasta

-salsa (‘Wild Harvest Organics’ makes a great one with no preservatives, yum!)

-unflavoured popcorn (a good snack when I crave potato chips)

-Korean pepper paste, ok well any other Korean products, like miso and kimchi

-olive oil (would love to cook with coconut oil but it’s so damn expensive!)

-balsamic vinegar

-fish sauce

-coconut milk (have yet to look around bigger local supermarkets to see if I can find it)

-green chilli paste (only the brand that doesn’t have preservatives, forgot the brand on the top of my head)

– peppermint, early grey and english breakfast tea


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Thoughts on Food

Through my food allergies (I got over most of them through a much better diet!), I’ve really changed my views on food and I what I can do to help myself and loved ones go onto a path to better health.

Nothing said in this video is entirely original, but it really sums up a lot of what other foodies have to say, plus I will admit Jamie Oliver is quite a charismatic speaker. Go check it out:


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you are what you eat

I got my allergy test results back and discovered that I’m not allergic to most foods that I was heavily allergic to anymore! I’m quite excited, and have been talking to my husband about the foods I can eat now.  I’m still a little paranoid I’ll break out, so I’ve been thinking about what got me into this predicament in the first place.

So here’s what I’ve learned about my past eating habits:

-If I like something, I eat it literally all the time. I find recipes with the same ingredients over and over again. Which makes it easy to develop an allergy to that food.

-I didn’t have enough fiber in my diet, it was mostly refined grains, which doesn’t count.

-I didn’t eat a variety of foods (look above). I was pretty malnourished. I ate a lot to compensate for this I think.

-I ate many processed foods which resulted me in eating a lot of ‘filler’ foods, which were the very things I was allergic to.

-I drank a wackload of alcohol.

Did this result from pure laziness? Sure, it could have been. But maybe also because I didn’t know any better. Even though I am able to eat all the junk I want again, I’m probably not going to. I’ve developed some (I think!) good food habits I’m going to keep:

-eat whole foods.  I rarely buy premade sauces, but if I do, I make sure it has ingredients that I recognize and don’t have to look up in a dictionary.

-Increase intake of fiber. Tried to sneak quinoa, beans, spinach, nuts and seeds in smoothies and that has worked well.

-Eat more raw foods. We’ve made some yummy salads in the last two years!

-Avoid refined sugar. Keeping a food diary of that, so I can be more accountable.

I’m going to have my first sandwich (going to make sure it is whole grain or sourdough) in years soon! Yes, I am excited, don’t laugh.

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Yummy Honey

One of the things that frustrates me about being in China is the food here. Not that I don’t like local cuisine, rather it is how the food is prepared, farmed and raised.  I’ve been trying to find more ways to eat locally here, and I often wished I had more resources to find out where my food comes from. Unfortunately, it’s really not that possible in China sometimes.

One food though, I am able to get locally AND speak to the people who make it.  Local honey! I stumbled upon this while on a photo jaunt around the Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens, and saw all the deliciousness there is.  yum! One of the great things was, I got to see the beekeepers (though the bees flying around scared me a little). In grand China fashion, you never see one honey stand alone, or course there were tons along the road. I of course bought a huge jar, plus a bottle of bee pollen, and hopefully it will help me with my allergies.

Here are some photos from the walk:

sarah li cain-mumbledjumbles-yummy honey03

sarah li cain-mumbledjumbles-yummy honey02

sarah li cain-mumbledjumbles-yummy honey01

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Curbing sugar cravings

One of the worst things I ever did to my body (and my health) in the past was eat a whole wackload of sugar. Of course, back then, I was a bit niave and didn’t really realize the consequences it had on me.  Here is what I wouldn’t think twice of eating in the past:

-sugary cakes, such as muffins, cheesecake, breads,etc. for any meal

-soda and sugary fruit juices

-refined pasta and grains

-loads of white sugar in tea and coffee

I’ve drastically reduced this, and feel much better for it. I’ve stopped eating processed sugar altogether, and avoid any sauces that have added, and stopped drinking juice (you wouldn’t believe  how much sugar they add in ALL their drinks in China!).

Of course, I’m not giving up everything with sugar in it, such as wine and natural sugars in fruit, but I know in order for me to keep my health in check like I have been, I have to stop eating sugar that is refined. Though, taking refined flour out of my diet is going to take more than a few weeks, as I really enjoy dumplings at this little cafe I frequent and they use white flour for their dumpling skins. I will admit however, it is really hard sometimes to pass by sweet shops and not get tempted, especially if there is good quality mango sorbet, tee hee.

I’ve found some ways that have helped me give into temptation:

1) Avoid foods that are too salty/spicy –  I always crave sweet drinks if I go for Korean food (for example), so not eating foods like that helps me want less sugar

2) Stop drinking coffee/black tea – I used to have milk and sugar with that, and I find myself still justifying that one pack of sugar is not so bad. I stick with herbal teas or green tea with a bit of honey if I want something sweet.

3) Keep a bag of seeds or unsalted nuts on hand – If I’m hungry, I make silly choices and go for the first thing I see in the convenience store.  That way, if something is around my desk and I can eat it right way, it will stop me from making  a poor choice.

4) Don’t look at food I cannot have – I pass my this sorbet store all the time, but once I figured out that if I look straight ahead and not look at my favourite flavour, I thought less about it, which means I crave it less.

5) Remind myself of why I am doing this in the first place – My eczema symptoms flare up, or my energy levels dip, or I get moody. I don’t want that happening anymore!

6) Don’t see it as giving up something, but as a step to gaining something, like my health – When I had to stop eating certain goods due to allergies, I was quite upset because I kept thinking I was giving something up. If I continue to think this way, of course I’d want to rebel from it and eat what I shouldn’t.

7) Don’t be too hard on myself if I cheat every once in a while – Once a month I do give myself a treat (I had chocolate mousse at a five star hotel and it was glorious!), but of course it should be a treat of quality, so I don’t continue craving something sweet after said cheat item is eaten.

8) Keep track whenever I eat sugar – I surprise myself at how much I cheat if I don’t hold myself accountable. I remember when I started reducing my intake of sugar, I actually ate more! Having a list in front of me every once in a while does put things into perspective.

What are your ways to stop yourself from giving into temptation? Any tips?

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complimenting myself

I’ve been feeling down about where I needed to head with my goals I forgot to look at how far I have come in the past year and a bit.  I’ve been down on myself about most things (mostly diet and exercise) so complimenting myself will help motivate me further

Here’s my list:

-Successfully cut out most highly refined/added sugar from my diet.

-Added new foods in my diet (dried beans, quinoa, eggplant, radish, I’m sure there is more)

-Reduced intake of beef

-Shopped more at local wet market (also called farmer’s market)

-Cooked more meals at home

-Stopped eating pastries/bread

-Ate more fruit in diet

-Drank more water daily

-Decreased dependence on nutritional supplements (only on dairy-free probiotics and calcium occasionally)

-Reduced caffene intake

-Ate less highly processed foods (instant noodles, premade sauces, potato chips)

-Ate less salt

-Used less oil in cooking

-Exercised 3-4 times a week even though work schedule is hectic

-Watched less TV

-Gotten very efficient with planning lessons and units at work

-Learned better ways to build rapport with students

-Through mimicking others and obessively reading menus, have improved my Mandarin skills to the point where I can have basic conversations with people (well, at least I can get by)

-Maintained a wonderful relationship with my now husband

-Improved my film developing skills, and taking images of people with heavy TLR

-Made better financial decisions

-Made diet choices and reduced/virtually eliminated ezcema symptoms

Looking at at this list, it sure is a lot! I should be very proud of myself.  I still have a long way to go until I am where I would like to be with my eating goals (trying to make sure 2/3 of our meals are vegetarian/vegan, weed red chillies out from most of my diet, weed out highly refined foods for good, eat seasonally as much as possible) but this is a good start. For a girl who used to indulge on anything and everything, and not caring about consequences of what I ate, it is very good. Granted, it was hard, but I am glad I made the choice (necessary or not) to get here.  I am also happy that I am more confident in what I do at work. I also feel more confident in my photography and feeling happy that I do have the leisure time and disposible income to afford film supplies for what I love.

I do have a pretty good life. And I am awesome 🙂

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