Mooncakes: Why overindulging on these festive treats could be a health risk
Mooncakes might be physically small, but they can have a big impact on your waistline - just one could contain the same number of calories as a full meal.
For example, an average-size 192g baked lotus mooncake with two egg yolks has about 890 calories, according to the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) nutrient analysis.
That is equivalent to about four bowls of rice, said Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Singapore-based Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre. She added that one of these mooncakes has the same amount of sugar as about 1.5 cans of cola.
Other types of mooncakes, like those covered in snowskin, do not fare much better. A bite-size portion of an eighth of a snowskin mooncake is worth 93 calories, which works out to about half a bowl of rice.
All this spells bad news for people looking to enjoy the tasty treats of the Mid-Autumn Festival while still following a healthy diet. The challenge can be further intensified with more unusual fillings like durian and champagne truffle, which are potentially sweeter or more calorie-laden.
So, is it time to moderate how many mooncakes we are munching on?
HOW HEALTHY ARE MOONCAKES?
Chief dietitian at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital Natalie Goh said the sugar used to make mooncake is usually the refined type. While sugar content varies depending on the inpidual variety, those with more nuts or egg yolks in the filling generally contain less sugar compared with a plain lotus, red bean or yam paste version, she said.
"Mooncakes are typically considered as unhealthy because of the high calorie, sugar and fat content," she said.
One way to assess how healthy a mooncake is is to look at its glycemic index (GI). The GI measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose level. A lower GI content is better, especially for diabetes patients.
Information on the GI of mooncakes is limited, but in any case, Ms Goh said that the index alone is not a good measurement to decide if the food is healthy or suitable for someone with diabetes.
Explaining why, she compared a low-sugar lotus seed paste mooncake with pine nuts to a low-sugar lotus seed paste mooncake with salted egg yolk.
While they contain the same amount of carbohydrates per serving, a 22g piece – about one-eighth of a mooncake – of the one with pine nuts has a higher GI of 40 compared to 30 in the salted egg yolk mooncake, she said.
"This doesn’t mean the mooncake with pine nuts is less healthy. The fats in nuts are of unsaturated type, a better type of fat than saturated fat. Mooncakes with salted egg yolk contain more sodium. So when choosing mooncakes, it is about balancing choice and amount," she said.
While mooncakes may be tempting in their hues of pink, yellow and green, and pretty designs and packaging, dietitians advocate eating just a small portion.
Ms Chia suggested cutting the mooncake into eight pieces to share with others, and to choose those with less sugar or with nuts and seeds.
Nutritionist Karin Reiter recommended making mooncakes at home with natural sugar substitutes, or going for a walk immediately after having a small portion in order to regulate any spike in blood glucose levels. In diabetic patients, high blood glucose levels after a meal has been linked to heart disease.
While mooncakes should be consumed in moderation, consumers can go for low-sugar baked mooncakes./.