Losing Weight Eating Korean Food?

Today I happened upon a blog post on how to lose weight eating Korean food on LivingStrong.com. I had to laugh because I’d eaten Korean food most of my life and always had weight issues.

Granted, I wasn’t as physically active as I probably could have been (too much piano and studying/reading instead of playing outside or doing sports). It probably didn’t help that my mom was a good cook or that we were taught to eat up all the food in our bowls or else our luck would disappear.

Maybe if I had brown rice and more of the less appetizing vegetable sides instead of the tasty sweet and savory goodies, weight wouldn’t have been issue. OK, and maybe if Mom were a bad cook, and she had allowed me to take dance lessons even though my physique wasn’t dancer-like…but I digress.

The writer missed out on a number of points with regard to losing weight eating Korean food:

Salt and sugar issues. Korean food has quite a bit of salt—especially kimchee. Although kimchee is great for the good bacteria from the fermentation, in its less fermented state, it’s pretty salty. (That’s how kimchee is able to be preserved well.) The problem with too much sodium is water-retention and high blood pressure. So, for people with high blood pressure, trying to lose weight with Korean food might not be the right way.

Assorted namul

Sodium can also be a problem in “namul,” the various vegetables that are blanched or quickly sauteed. (Salt is thrown in to help draw out the water and bring out flavor in the food.) Some examples of namul are spinach, potato stems, mung bean sprouts, soybean sprouts. They are usually presented as banchan (side dishes) or part of a popular Korean dish called bibim bap (rice mixed with vegetables and egg and sometimes beef with spicy red pepper paste). However, I suppose the fact that namul are vegetables—high fiber and low calories—may offset the salt issue.

As for meats, one needs to be careful with the marinaded meat dishes as they often have high sugar and salt content. One can order plain kalbi (rib meat) or thinly sliced beef instead. They’re great in lettuce wraps with shredded green onions tossed in sesame oil, soy sauce, a bit of sugar, and slightly sprinkled with red pepper flakes. My daughter likes dipping the plain cooked meat in a salt/pepper/sesame oil dip.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG). If you are sensitive/allergic to MSG, one has to be very careful when dining in Korean restaurants. Although one might request MSG not to be added to the food, it may already be present within the premade sauces and panchan from outside vendors. Sometimes it’s in the soup base.

Problem with MSG-sensitive people like me—water retention.

Forgotten goodies. The writer forgot to mention the important diet food of miyook gook (seaweed soup). People traditionally have miyook gook on their birthdays, and women who have recently given birth eat miyook gook to help lose weight quickly.

For people who are dealing with water-retention, hobak jook (kombucha squash soup) might be the food for you. However, one needs to be careful of the carbohydrates from the white rice mochi that might be in the soup or the sweet white rice flour that might be added to help thicken and/or sweeten the soup. Sometimes sugar is added to enhance the flavor of the squash—kind of like how Italians add a bit of sugar to tomato sauce to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes as well as cut out some of the acid.

Caveat. As the writer mentioned, the weight will come off as long as one reduces 500 calories from one’s daily requirement (whether through decreasing food intake or increasing calorie-burning through exercise). As long as one is careful about caloric intake and avoids the refined carbohydrates in the white rice and noodles, the hidden sugar in the marinades and side dishes, and the extra sodium that easily brings on the water weight, Korean food can help one to lose weight.

But let me tell you, with all the goodies that come with the meal, it’s tough to eat like a Buddhist monk. And, if you happen to go to a small Mom-and-Pop Korean restaurant or to a Korean friend’s house, it might be a bit insulting to leave food behind/untouched.

So dieting, be damned. Live a little and enjoy.


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