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Meat first? Vegetables first? This dietician knows what’s healthiest.

The meat, the veggies, the potatoes, what is the best and most healthy order to eat your hotpot dinner?

Those who often have hotpot dinners might be familiar with the debate: is it best to first put the meat into the simmering broth, or should the veggies go in first? Many of my Chinese friends would argue the meat goes in first so that the broth is extra flavorful later on because the meat has been simmering in it, adding to its taste.

But according to an article recently posted on Sohu‘s health channel by Chinese dietist Wang Hui (王慧), this is not necessarily the right order.

Not only does Wang Hui recommend putting the vegetables in first, she even has a recommended order:

  1. Leafy greens first
  2. Potatoes/Root vegetables
  3. Mushrooms/Fungi
  4. Tofu
  5. Meat


Why Vegetables Go First

Once your hotpot broth is ready and boiling (some recommended soup bases here), Wang Hui argues the leafy and/or green vegetables, such as spinach or broccoli, go into the pot first, and should then only be cooked shortly to avoid excessive heating.

A first reason is that when you cook vegetables for a minimal amount of time, they retain their vitamins. The good news is that research has found that boiling (or steaming) vegetables preserves the most antioxidants compared to frying – and that boiling might even help to increase antioxidant levels.

But boiling time matters: particularly vitamins B and C are lost or diminished when vegetables are cooked for a longer time, so limiting the time it simmers in the hotpot helps to retain those nutrients.

A second reason for starting with the leafy and (darker) green vegetables is that they contain a lot of fibers. High-fiber food contributes to satiety. The more ‘full’ you feel on these veggies the better, because these healthy and nutrient-dense foods will make sure you do not overeat on the meat. Fibers are good for the digestive tracts and work as a “bowel regulator.” As Wang puts it, it forms a protective “fence” barrier (栅栏) in the stomach for the other foods to follow.


Potatoes, Fungi & Tofu

Healthy starches such as potatoes can be put in the hotpot after the vegetables. They are rich in vitamins and minerals and are prebiotic, which means they feed the good bacteria that help our immune system.

The fungi (mushrooms, enoki, etc) and tofu products can now be added; they need to cook a bit longer than the veggies. Since many people experience stomach problems due to eating (too many) mushrooms, it is better not to overeat on the fungi.


Meat & Seafood

At last, the meat and seafood products can be put into the hotpot. Here, Wang Hui also recommends that fish and shrimp are put in first, and the red meat last. Reason for this is also because seafood generally requires more cooking time.

One reason to save the meat for last is that the meat also releases more saturated fats and purine into the broth, which is not necessarily good for you.

For those who really cannot wait to eat meat, Wang suggests that they make sure to eat plenty of vegetables and foods that are high in starch with it, to avoid an excessive intake of fat. The more varied your hotpot is, the better.

A last reminder from the nutritionist is to avoid processed foods (meatballs, ham, etc) as much as possible during your hotpot dinners to make it as nutritious as possible during those cold winter days.

By Manya Koetse

Images by:, Jenn Kosar, Pedraza Burk, Esperanza Zhang.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Yeming

    January 17, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    In practice, the reverse order is more culturally sensitive though…

    Two other comments that I have heard, next to starting with meat because it makes a nicer broth, are:
    – Potatoes at the end, as they contain starch and that should be avoided in the broth, especially in the beginning.
    – Veggie’s also last, as they suck up a lot of the spices, which you don’t want in the beginning (referring to Sichuan hotpot here).

    However, I’ll just stick to the idea of eating the nicest products first, which I secretly think most people do as well haha

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