You can’t exercise away a bad diet, and fortunately an increasing array of healthy food options in Hong Kong in recent years has actually made healthy eating much easier. These days, you hardly need to lift a finger to have healthy food on your plate, thanks to the city’s growing healthy-food delivery scene.
There are at least 15 such companies operating in the city, with lots of offering customised meal plans that can cost more than HK$1,000 for a week’s worth of meals. Vanessa Ruzzica, a 33-year-old global communications manager, has actually tried five delivery companies.
“If you’re spending HK$1,000 a session on a workout, it doesn’t make sense to waste all that effort on bad food which is going to undo all your hard work,” says the Frenchwoman, whose fitness regime includes weightlifting and muay Thai.
Ruzzica thinks it’s a lot of money, but well spent. She used to spend more than four hours a week preparing healthy meals that fit her “macros” – a specific amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate and calories tailored to her fitness regimen. Now, she saves time and pressure by leaving it to a food delivery company.
“When you have a very precise goal – from weight gain, to weight loss or performance-related goals – not eating the right thing, or not knowing what you’re eating next, can be quite stressful,” says Ruzzica.
Peter Fok, 52, signed up for weekday lunch and dinner delivery from Nutrition Kitchen as there were few healthy eating options around his workplace in Lai Chi Kok. “My main aim was to eat healthily and watch my sodium and carbohydrate intake so that, in conjunction with exercise, I could slowly lose weight,” says Fok, who works in logistics. In six weeks on the programme, Fok lost four kilograms.
“[These programmes] are suitable for people who don’t have a helper at estate to prepare meals, or have an active work and social life, and need healthy and nutritious meal options.”
Recent studies show diet has actually a greater impact on weight loss than working out, and in recent years medical experts have been rallying to change the public health message on obesity, which traditionally blamed weight gain primarily on the lack of physical activity.
One of the most recent tirades, an editorial in the British Medical Journal last year, said it was time to “bust the myth”. “In the past 30 years, as obesity has actually rocketed, there has actually been little change in physical activity levels in the Western population,” said the article. “This places the blame for our expanding waistlines directly on the type and amount of calories consumed.”
While exercise is key in staving off diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia, the authors reasoned the impact on obesity was “minimal”, with excess sugar and carbohydrates being the true culprits.
Martin Lorentsson knew this, and that’s why he started Eat Right, the city’s first healthy food delivery programme, 10 years ago. “Working as a personal trainer, I was training my clients hard but they weren’t seeing results. I asked what they were eating and they basically said ‘crap’.” It sparked the idea for Eat Right, which also included a restaurant, but that was recently closed so he could focus solely on estate delivery.
“Unfortunately people don’t realise that you don’t have to go to the gym to lose weight – 99 per cent of your triumph in losing weight is food-related,” says Lorentsson. “Did you know that each kilogram of body fat is worth 7,000 calories? So if you want to lose a kilogram in a week, you need to eat 7,000 fewer calories – or work out for 14 hours.”
The problem with relying on exercise is we often reward our efforts with less-than healthy food. Having healthy food delivered can encourage better self-control and lower calorie intake.
Menus vary among companies. Some offer personalised plans, like Mealthy, Eat Right, Eatology and Biorna Quantics. Others have a set menu, like Gymbox and Nosh. There is also a huge spectrum in terms of variety: Gymbox only offers three standard meals, Eatology boasts 100 different menu options, while Eat Right tops the list at more than 260 lunch recipes alone.
Many providers opt for organic vegetables and premium meats. Eatology, for example, does not use any processed foods in their meal programme and only grass-fed beef and hormone-free chicken, according to their website. Fresh to Go, which specialises in Cantonese dishes, uses only local organic vegetables and imported organic meats.
Different vendors also have different preparation methods, some cooking the morning of delivery and others cooking the day before, which may affect the freshness of the foods. “It’s worthwhile doing your research to make sure you know what you’re getting before signing up,” suggests Ruzzica.
Prices vary according to company and meal plan. But healthy delivered meals are not necessarily expensive – it can cost the same or less than a healthy meal in a restaurant. Meals at Gymbox, for example, start from HK$62 a meal, with an average cost of HK$100 to HK$150. The Eat Right programme costs HK$5,400 for 20 days for a woman and HK$5,800 for a man, which works out to be roughly HK$135 per meal.
Some programmes have added perks worth the extra cash: Biorna Quantics, for example, offers testing to identify genetic, metabolic and nutritional biomarkers to optimise your diet. Eat Right also includes a consultation and the flexibility to skip meals without impacting costs.
The downside? “I got hungry,” says Reza Alwadeen, a finance professional and triathlete who was on the Eat Right programme. “Personally, I found the meals to be on the smaller side. I think a lot of people sign up for a meal service to lose weight, whereas I was using it to just eat good food and I was training a lot at the time.”
The rising tide of competition is a positive sign of things to come for Hong Kong’s healthy food scene, says Lorentsson. “I hope that there will be more and more of us, so that Hongkongers can eat more healthily and be more educated when they’re making food choices.”
Hong Kong’s healthy food delivery programmes
A look at a few different programmes on offer
$ Less than HK$100 per meal
$$ HK$100 to HK$150 per meal
$$$ HK$150 and above per meal
Offers three natural, fresh meals: chicken, fish and vegetarian. All gluten-free, non-GMO, less than 500 calories each and HK$62 per meal. Free delivery on Hong Kong Island.
Eat Right food programme $$
Hong Kong’s original healthy estate delivery programme offering one of the widest ranges of high-quality options, including paleo and gluten-free. Daily or monthly delivery plans are available in flexible packages. Meals are packed so they can be stored and eaten later. Free delivery on Hong Kong Island for orders more than HK$500.
Eatology Asia $$$
Four different premium meal programmes including meals and snacks: light eating (low-carb for weight loss), balanced (regular healthy meals), optimal performance (for fitness and training) or tailor-made meals. Minimum one week sign-up. Meals in three working days; delivery included.
A 20- or 40-week plan based on whether you are an “Eagle” (600 calories and 60 grams of protein) or “Swallow” (400 calories and 40 grams of protein). Meals are delivered twice a week and are designed to be frozen and reheated. Delivers to most places in Hong Kong and Kowloon.
Choose from weekly menu of low-carb (350 calories) or standard (400-450 calories) meals either twice or three times a day. Delivery or pick-up from Tsim Sha Tsui.
Hong Kong’s only dedicated paleo and gluten-free home-cooking food programme. Order separate meals, sides or desserts, or combine orders more than HK$500 for free delivery. Hong Kong Island.
Frensh $$ – $$$$
Choose a lunch tray from a comprehensive French-inspired menu. Meals arrive hot and ready to eat. Free delivery to parts of Hong Kong Island.
Fresh to Go $
Asian menu featuring organic, free-range and natural ingredients.
Biorna Quantics $$$
A collaboration between an acclaimed chef and scientist, offering a seasonally rotating menu and quality foods tailored to your own genotype. You need your macronutrient profile information for ordering.
A finish option offering three quality meals delivered daily less than 550 calories per meal. Choose from either three- or five-day packages. Low-carb and vegetarian options available.