Moon cakes contain different ingredients, but food experts said they are basically starch, animal fat and sugar. File photo
Many people believe that the moon cake festival, or Trung Thu, which comes the 15th day of the eighth month in lunar calendar, is not complete without a tray of the sweet and tasty moon cakes.
But according to health and nutrition experts, the cakes are so fatty and sweet that the festival is possibly better off incomplete.
There are two basic kinds of moon cakes -- one coated with baked wheat flour and the other with sticky rice – that are stuffed with various seeds and nuts, egg yolk and others. Some expensive kinds use bird's nest, chia seeds and black garlic to claim they are more nutritious, but doctors say whatever tonic is added to the cake, it is basically fat and sugar.
Each cake, weighing around 170 grams on average, contains 600-700 kcal which is as much as a hamburger with fries and a carbonated drink or two bowls of beef noodle soup.
According to food experts, moon cakes are a mere festival snack with little nutrition, not to mention the possibility that many of them are made from low-quality ingredients that can cause food poisoning or contain a large amount of preservatives.
Dr Nguyen Van Tien of the National Institute of Nutrition is quoted by news website VnExpress as saying that a moon cake provides as much sugar and starch as three bowls of rice, which is a full meal for a Vietnamese adult.
Most cakes use highly processed sugar that is easily absorbed and thus can quickly cause a spike in blood sugar, he said.
Too much of it could cause a child obesity or diabetes, he warned.
The increase in blood sugar can also cause one to lose appetite, while animal fat in the cakes is not healthy and its vitamin content is low, he said.
He said a child should only have an eighth of a cake after a meal and adults, a little more than that.
Then they should brush their teeth to wash away the sugar, he added.
Dr Thu Hoai, another food expert from Hanoi, said the cakes are not good for anyone because their high protein content is too much for a person’s digestive system and can cause digestive disorders.
For people with obesity and diabetes, the cakes should be off-limits or they should reduce their main meals during the day, eat more vegetables or walk an extra mile to offset the extra fat and sugar.
Several kinds of moon cakes are advertised as suitable for people with a low-fat and low-sugar diet, but then they won’t provide the true taste of the festival anyway.
“Moon cakes have to be sweet so that they taste perfect with tea,” an employee of a luxury moon cake brand in Ho Chi Minh City said, admitting, “We won’t recommend them for a diabetic.”
Hoai said by eating the cakes, obese people or those with high blood pressure would put themselves at high risk of a stroke or atherosclerosis, a disease in which arterial degeneration and cholesterol deposits on the inner surfaces of the arteries obstruct blood flow.
She said people with acne and other skin allergies should also avoid moon cakes since the sugar stimulates skin oil secretion.
The festival falls on September 27 this year, so if you have a weight loss plan, wait for it before you start.