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6 Tips for a Healthy Hot Pot

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Hot pot, also known as steamboat, is a family and friends’ friendly get-together meal that is widely enjoyed by Asians. There are various styles of hot pot in Asia and even within the same country. Think about Japan and their sukiyaki and shabu-shabu and Thailand with their Thai Suki. Perhaps China is the country that has the most variations of hot pot. In Hong Kong, their ‘da bin lo’ (鎵撻倞鐖), a.k.a. hot pot, is generally heavy on seafood. In Northern China, thinly sliced lamb meat is the highlight of hot pot. For a spicy fan out there, the city of Chongqing is famous for its numb and spicy ‘ma la’ (楹昏荆) hot pot. Much like bubble tea, banh mi, and Thai ice cream rolls, hot pot is well beloved by non-Asians as well. 
 
Other than the flavorful broth and the festive gathering, some people believe hot pot to be a healthy choice due to the abundance of vegetables and the cooking process which involves only boiling of food. However, what people tend to ignore is that a hot pot meal can quickly become disastrous for their health, especially if it is consumed on a regular basis. 
 
Here are five lean and healthy tips to bear in mind the next time you are heading out for hot pot - 
 
1. Choose the broth wisely
 
There are different options of soup base to choose from. Clear, light broth and other vegetable-based broth are healthier than the hot and spicy broth where chili oil is added to the mix. Don’t be shy to ask the waiter to go lighter or to remove the oil. 
 
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2.  Forget the balls 
 
Processed meat like fish, beef and pork balls are high in sodium and fat. Limit the consumption of these addictive balls. 
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3. Slow down with the dipping 
 
The first step to a hot pot meal entails heading out to the sauce station and whipping up a personalized dipping sauce. Generally, soy sauce is the go-to base for the sauce. However, soy sauce is brimming with sodium. One tablespoon of soy sauce contains nearly 900 mg of sodium, which equals to 40% of maximum daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). The broth, meatballs and other ingredients are usually well seasoned. Have a taste before dunking the food items into the dipping sauce. 
 
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4. Alternate between meat, veggies and carb 
 
Because meat is more expensive than vegetables, people who aim to get their money worth when eating at an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant tend to disregard the vegetables to save more space in their stomach for the meat. Since it is quite hard to keep track of the amount of meat, vegetables and carbs that are being consumed, the trick is to alternate between the three of them. For every 1-2 bites of meat, munch on some vegetables and a source of carb (e.g. noodles, rice cake). If you have your own individual pot, another solution would be to portion everything neatly on a plate following the healthy eating plate. 
 
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5. Cook the Veggies until Al Dente
 
High-cooking temperature can destroy heat-sensitive vitamins like vitamin C and B-vitamins. Vegetables should be crisp and not soggy to limit nutrients loss. 
 
6. Don’t Sip Too Much of the Broth
 
According to a study published in the Shanghai Journal of Preventive, nitrite content of broth increases with the cooking time. Nitrite is an organic compound naturally found in foods like lettuce, spinach and celery and in water. Sodium nitrite is also used in cured meat as a preservative agent. While high-consumption cured meat is associated with the risk of cancer, which in part is explained by the presence of nitrite, the effect of naturally occurring nitrite in vegetables on human being’s health is unclear. As a precaution, authors recommend hot-pot consumers to finish their meal in 30 minutes. 
 
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