A single mooncake can push you to your daily limit for fat and sugar

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am

Everyone hopes for a big, bright, full moon for the Mid-Autumn Festival next week, but when it comes to mooncakes, dietitians say we'd be better off with a quarter.

Warnings about the fat and sugar content of the seasonal delicacies are common, but this is the first time consumers have been able to make direct comparisons, thanks to the government's nutrition labelling laws that took effect on July 1.

And a check of the labels shows the warnings are justified: some mooncakes contain almost one-and-a-half times an adult's recommended daily intake of sugar, while for others a single cake could account for a full day's fat consumption.

Eating a whole lotus seed mooncake with two egg yolks from Maxims, Saint Honore, Kee Wah and Wing Wah would put an adult over the recommended sugar limit of 50 grams by up to 45 per cent. A whole Hang Heung mooncake contains 58.7g of fat, very near the daily recommended maximum of 60g.

Flavia U, a former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Dietitian Association and a registered dietitian in Britain, said a mooncake contained as much energy as three bowls of rice, but people shouldn't worry too much provided they knew when to stop.

'Eating just a quarter of a mooncake as a snack is perfectly acceptable,' she said.

Snowy mooncakes are generally perceived as healthier, but a Saint Honore yolk and mung bean flavoured mini mooncake contains 0.4g of trans-fat.

This is especially a concern for children, as their recommended daily maximum intake of such saturated fat is about 1.65g. An adult, on the other hand, should not consume more than 2.2g of trans-fats a day.

Dietitians advised that consumers should also read the small print on mooncakes carefully, because some labels listed the nutrition content per serving size, which could be as small as one-eighth of a mooncake.

To calculate the nutrition level based on 100g of food, buyers can make use of an online calculator on the Centre for Food Safety's website.

U said there was no need for undue worry. She said eating festive foods such as mooncakes was fine, as long as one knew when to stop.

Next Thursday is the first Mid- Autumn Festival since the nutrition labelling law came into force.

Under its requirements, food labels must specify the product's energy content plus levels of seven core substances - protein, total fats, saturated fats, trans-fats, total carbohydrates, sugars and sodium.

'Ingredients such as flour may affect blood-sugar levels,' U said. 'But if the total carbohydrate level is below 20g per 100g of food, it is acceptable.'

She said that if diabetes patients wanted to have more mooncakes during the festival, they should eat less rice to compensate. 'As long as one does regular exercise and maintains a healthy diet in general, eating festive food is perfectly fine.'

All 250 mooncake samples collected by the Centre for Food Safety passed chemical and microbiological tests under an annual surveillance programme, the centre said.