Chinese give unhealthy takeaways the chop.

Healthy Option: Simon Lam, samples his new range in the kitchen of his takeaway restaurant at Ashtead, Surrey.

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor.

     The Chinese take away is the latest fast food to face a health check to combat obesity and hearth disease. Nutritionists have scrutinised cooking methods and the use of additives in some popular Chinese dishes, from aromatic crispy duck to sweet and sour pork, and given them healthy makeover. Within 45 percent of Britons choosing a Chinese meal as their favourite takeaway in recent research, Chinese community leaders decided they should address the main concerns: food with too much fat, Salt and sugar, use of monosodium glutamine (MSG) to flavour food, use of red and yellow colourings, and liberal use of soy and oyster sauces.

     Nearly 200 chefs, including Simon Lam, who runs China Express and Four Seasons takeaway in Ashtead, Surrey, have been taught cooking techniques and are offering healthy-option menus in their local outlets. The trend for healthy Chinese food is already well established in Hong Kong and United States, where notice "No MSG used here" is often seen. That sign is certain to appear shortly here. Many people are concerned about MSG known to trigger allergic reactions ranging from hot flushes, headache and migraine to palpitations in more extreme cases.

     The drive has come from the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre in Soho, London, with the support of the British Heart Foundation. The task is huge, however, Thomas Chan, chairman of the Chinese Takeaway Association, said there were 10000 takeaways and 5000 restaurants in Britain. He hopes that owners and chefs will pick up tips from each other. Courses to train chefs are already planned in Manchester and Birmingham. Eddie Chan, director of the Healthy Living Centre, said educating takeaways owners and chefs was just first phase of the campaign. "We want them to provide the evidence that healthy menu still brings in the profits and that customers are even prepared to pay higher price for food that is better for them. When we have this firm evidence, only then can we hope to promote the concept with restaurant owners" he said.

     The centre is also promoting a new book, 'Fresh Chinese'. It's recipes were compiled by Wynnie Chan, a nutrition expert who lives in Hong Kong. Her work in Britain is being carried forward by Joanna Peter, an NHS clinical dietician, who is evangelical in her passion to rid Chinese food of dollops of fat, salt and sugar. She said: "Chinese food cooked in the home is generally healthy. But when you eat in takeaways and restaurants the food is prepared with MSG, numerous colouring and flavouring because these foods have been coked to suit Western taste buds. Sweet and sour pork is not the way is made in Britain." Her main instruction is that chefs should use less oil and fat, avoid deep-frying and to roast and grill instead.

     Use of red colouring for spare ribs is banned, as is the yellow in fried rice to suggest copious quantities of egg. Chefs are taught to use natural flavourings and to make their own stock. Miss Peter admitted that the meals may not taste exactly the same. "It is just a matter of adjusting the nation's taste. No one is born loving salt and sugar. The power is with the chefs but people should also start asking about various ingredients in their food, especially MSG".

Body and Soul.

The Times, Saturday, January 22 2005