Posted on: Wednesday, August 20, 2003 in the Honolulu Advertiser - Back to Media

Creating food for life

Start healthy cooking with tofu stir-fry

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Since she was 18, Li Si Yang literally has been surrounded by food.

For years, her whole world was inside Cheung Fhot Grocery in Kane'ohe, the store that was the realization of her immigrant father's dream. It was where Yang had the prices memorized and knew the top seller of the day was much more likely to be a snack such as crack seed than the Chinese vegetables the family stocked.

But juggling 70-hour weeks at the store with school and other responsibilities began to take a toll. Though Yang was petite, and the 26-year-old rarely tipped the scale at more than 100 pounds, she considered herself a "skinny fat" person. She was depressed, her self-esteem was shot, and she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive disorder she attributed to stress.

That's what it took for her to completely overhaul her life. She joined a gym and changed her diet and exercise regimen. She began winning fitness competitions in 2001 and she became a personal trainer.

When she thought about how to hook others on the new way of life that made her feel so fulfilled, she turned to her kitchen.

She began making healthy oatcakes that have fewer calories and carbs than the Starbucks variety, and she decided she could be a one-stop personal fitness resource for busy people.

She began giving personal cooking lessons focusing on whole grains, fiber-filled vegetables, lean cuts of meat and "good fats."

The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation hired her as a health and fitness consultant, and the company's vice president even sprang for her $5,000 "celebrity package," in which she fixed meals three times a day, six days a week, for 12 weeks.

Even people who didn't have big bucks to spend began seeking her advice.

Julie Chikuma, 23, a University of Hawai'i student who trained with Yang, used to eat energy bars and processed food she thought was healthy.

"Now I'm a lot more cautious about what is actually healthy," she said. "She taught me to pair foods, like if I'm going to have cereal, to pair it with an egg and make my meals more balanced."

Most people find it daunting to make overnight changes when it comes to their diet, said Ken Uchiyama, a personal trainer who is hooked on Yang's 190-calorie oatcakes. But Yang encourages people to start small and just clean up one meal a day.




Little life changes

Charlotte Duarte was recovering from breast cancer when she met Yang last year.

After chemotherapy, Duarte wasn't used to moving around. Her balance was off, and she wanted someone to help her change the way she looked at food. Yang became her personal trainer in the gym as well as the kitchen.

Duarte recognized that she was an emotional eater, and she needed to be more conscious of things such as empty calories and portion control.

At first, Yang prepared three meals and two snacks a day for her. Then she taught Duarte how to make the meals. Duarte snuck lower-fat foods into the family menu with simple changes such as skinless chicken breasts and healthier salad dressings. Nobody objected.

"My family had been through so much with me," she said. "They were very supportive. We decided it was better to live than not."

And at work, where Duarte is a Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney, co-workers followed her lead in quitting the coffee club and forming a water club instead.

Little changes made it easier to cut out calories here and there, like resisting a 150-calorie cookie and drinking a glass of water instead.

Yang says her philosophy is more about making better choices than about giving up anything.

"The word I never want to use is 'can't,' " she said. "Have a little bit of everything. Life is short."

Yang's friends know the truth is that she does let herself have food "cheat days," when she eats whatever she wants, but more often she practices what she preaches about moderation.

"She really believes in balance," said Lisa D'Andrea, who was her training partner. "She's about balancing fat and carbs and not eliminating them."

Yang teaches her friends and clients how to grocery shop: Stay away from boxes and cans. Go for fresh fruits and fresh cuts of meat. Read the label. Look for sources of fiber.

"My thing is, take baby steps," Yang said. "It's progress, not perfection."

Reach Tanya Bricking at 525-8026 or

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Start healthy cooking with tofu stir-fry

Here's Li Si Yang's Health Matters recipe for a marinated and baked tofu stir-fry with bean sprouts and chives in a light soy sauce. The tofu cheese, a marinated, pressed cake of tofu (NOT the soy-based cheese product that resembles American cheese), is available in health food stores.

Tofu Cheese with Bean Sprouts and Chives

  • 1 bunch fresh chives (6 to 8 ounces), cut into 2 inches

    1 bag bean sprouts (6 to 8 ounces)

    1 block of tofu cheese, cut into strips

    1/2 cup of chop green onions

    1 teaspoon of minced garlic

    1 teaspoon of minced ginger

    2 tablespoons of low-sodium

    soy sauce

    1 teaspoon of black pepper

  • Pam spray

Turn stove to medium-high to high heat. Spray large pan with Pam and add ginger, garlic and tofu cheese. Stir-fry for a few minutes until slightly brown, then add chives and bean sprouts. Stir-fry until vegetables are softened and add soy sauce, black pepper and green onions.

Serve with rice, baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, or mix in your favorite beans. Makes 5 servings.

Per serving: 70 calories, 6g protein, 6g carbohydrates, 2.5g fat, 0g saturated fat, 2g fiber.