Zhang Lu, a 31-year-old fitness enthusiast, has recently dumped her favorite steamed buns and salty foods to embrace light meals.
She eats one egg and a bowl of konjac and purple yam porridge for breakfast, chicken breast with vegetable salad for lunch, and drinks a cup of lemon water with fiber-rich chia seeds in the afternoon.
"I don't feel hungry the whole day," said Zhang, an employee with a power company in Jinan City, east China's Shandong Province.
To shed excess weight and save time, a growing number of young Chinese like Zhang have turned to light diets featuring low calorie, low fat and sugar, and high fiber content.
According to a report published by the Chinese Nutrition Society, around 95 percent of the surveyed people said they eat light meals at least once a week, and fitness enthusiasts and dieters account for the largest proportion of light food consumers.
Data released by major Chinese food delivery platform Meituan Waimai showed that in the second half of 2020, the number of orders for light food and restaurants offering such meals on the platform increased by 50 percent and 27 percent year on year, respectively.
Sniffing out the business opportunity, many companies have taken to this healthy-diet industry. More than 3,000 enterprises related to light foods and meal replacement were newly established in China last year, according to the database query platform Tianyancha.com.
Sharkfit, a China-based fitness food brand established in 2017, became a rage among young consumers with its star product -- instant chicken breast.
"Chicken breast is high in protein and low in calories. We have explored various recipes with good taste and low fat to suit the palate of fitness enthusiasts and consumers who want to stay fit," said Gao Ning, co-founder of Sharkfit.
With a diverse product portfolio ranging from instant chicken breast to other kinds of meat, staple food substitutes, snacks, and seasoning, Sharkfit has notched up 210 million yuan (about 32.5 million U.S. dollars) in sales in 2020, and their sales are is expected to exceed 700 million yuan this year.
Many Chinese are troubled with "diseases of affluence" -- such as obesity and hypertension -- health conditions commonly believed to be a result of increasing wealth in a society, as the quality of life for most has greatly improved over the past decades.
According to an official report on nutrition and chronic diseases among Chinese people published last year, overweight and obesity rates among those aged 18 and above are 34.3 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively.
"Chinese people no longer worry about not having enough food. Rather, they want to have a delicious and healthy diet," said Gao.
The meal replacement market in China is expected to reach 120 billion yuan in 2022, statistics from global market research firm Euromonitor International showed.
Currently, most consumers of Sharkfit come from economically developed places, such as Beijing, and Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.
"With the improvement of quality of life and health awareness in second- and third-tier cities, we see a lot of room for business expansion in these areas," Gao said.