It’s almost Chinese New Year! One of the most looking-forward festive time of the year for Chinese diaspora all around the world! It’s the time when friends and family reunite to wish each other good health, happiness and prosperity. These uncountable gatherings often mean food, more food and sometimes more than we can handle. Surrounded by the festive mood, our self-control and ability to listen to our body’s cues tend to go out of the window. With most the traditional Chinese New Year food being high in energy due to the high Sugar and fats content, the weighing scale is likely to go up after this festive season! Continue reading to find out how you can make healthier Chinese New Year food choices to stay on track
Chinese New Year Food – The Snacks
These goodies are one of the must-have Chinese New Year food. An open house is incomplete without a wide variety of snacks served to the guest. These typical goodies are usually calorie-dense and can be deceiving at the same time! 4-5 pieces of these snacks can already contain calories similar to the main meal. Their high calories are mainly due to the amount of sugar and fats added. Some of these goodies can also be high in saturated fats and trans fat too (the bad fats) if butter or shortening are used in the preparation. Can you still have them? Of course! However, in view on how easily they can cause you to overconsume your calories, try to limit your snacking to just 1 or 2 pieces per snack. The infographic below shows the calories of various Chinese New Year snacks:
The Healthier Snack Choices
Nuts and Seeds
Go nuts! and seeds They are a good source of dietary fibre and plant protein that can help to feel fuller. This may help to control your snacks portion better. Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats which are beneficial for heart health. On top of that, chewing open the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds or cracking the walnuts can be a good training for mindful eating too! Just make sure your teeth are strong, or you could use a nut-cracker to do that job if you want to protect your teeth!
- Limit the portion to only 1 handful a day as nuts and seeds are also high in energy due to the high fat content.
- Choose the unsalted and no sugar coated nuts to cut back on the sodium and sugar intake.
Can be a healthier snack alternative as they are loaded with dietary fibre and antioxidants! Some of the examples are apple crisp (non-fried), dried pineapple, dried apricots and raisins. You can also try making them at home too! It’s super easy! Click here and here to learn how.
- Dried fruits provide a more concentrated form of calories and nutrients (including sugar), hence smaller amounts count for more. We recommend having 2 servings of fruits a day, and 1/4 cup of dried fruits is generally considered as 1 serving of fruit.
- Look for natural dried fruits without added sugar. Check the ingredient list on the packaging and avoid those with added sugar or ingredient names that end with “-ose” like fructose, sucrose; or concentrated juice.
Are the all-time healthy snacks! Apart from their high antioxidant content, fresh fruits are also packed with fibre and water to fill you up. Mandarin orange is definitely the “in the limelight” Chinese New Year food. One small mandarin orange (about the size of a fist) is considered as one serving of fruit and only contains ~60kcal. To know more about the fruit serving size, click here.
Chinese New Year Food – The Beverages
Sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages are commonly consumed during Chinese New Year. As we all know, some soft drinks or packet drinks can contain a whopping 4-9 teaspoons of sugar in just one serving. Instead of buying the regular version, people will now tend to make a conscious effort by choosing the drinks that claim to have less sugar. But are they really healthy?
Check The Label
For a beverage to be eligible to claim itself as reduced sugar or less sugar, it has to be at least 25% less sugar than the regular version. This means a reduced sugar beverage can still contain up to ~5 teaspoons of sugar if the regular version has 7 teaspoons of sugar, which is still pretty high. Besides that, some fruit juices and flavoured yoghurt drinks that often perceived to be healthy can contain high added sugar too. Hence, the rule of thumb is to always check the nutritional label to find out how much sugar a beverage exactly contains.
1 teaspoon of sugar is 5g, a beverage that contains 20g sugar per serving = 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving. 8 teaspoons of sugar if there are 2 servings in that bottle of beverage, so it’s important to check the number of servings too. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the daily added sugar limit for men and women should not be more than 9 teaspoons and 6 teaspoons respectively. Having said that, added sugar does not only come from beverages but also food like snacks and food preparation. So it’s wise to just go for low or no sugar added beverages to help stay within the daily limit. Below is a simple traffic light guidance to ease your purchasing, go green!
Low Sugar, Good Choice!
High in sugar!
Drinking is a special part of Chinese New Year celebration for some people. If you’re one of them, do bear in mind that alcohol is dense in calories too. 1g of alcohol contains 7 calories! That’s close to the amount found in 1g of fat, the highest calorie nutrient. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of alcohol-related liver disease and certain cancers like breast, lung, endometrial, liver and gastric cancer. The general guideline for alcohol intake is not more than 2 standard drinks for men and 1 standard drink for women on any single day. Click here to find out what counts as a standard drink.
Alcohol consumption can also cause low blood sugar in some patients with diabetes, so it’s recommended not to consume alcohol on an empty stomach as the alcohol will go into the bloodstream much quicker. The best is still to stay within the drinks limit.
Healthier Beverage Choices
Chinese Tea & Herbal Tea
Serve unsweetened green tea, oolong tea, jasmine tea or iced lemon tea to your guests. Unsweetened tea is calorie-free and it contains tea antioxidants – polyphenols that are beneficial for health! Similar to Chinese tea, herbal tea is also one of the healthier alternatives to sweetened drinks. You can consider sweetening the herbal tea by adding monk fruit (Luo Han Guo 罗汉果) which is a natural low-calorie sweetener.
Infused Water with Fruits
You can make a colourful infused water to impress your guests by putting different fruit slices into a jug of water or sparkling water. The addition of mint and other herbs will help to add great flavours too! Check out these interesting infused water recipes for some inspirations!
Chinese New Year Food – The Reunion Meal
A scrumptious meal during Chinese New Year is often symbolised with wealth and prosperity. However, most of the traditional Chinese New Year dishes tend to be high in fat, salt and sometimes sugar, making them less healthy. Take braised pork knuckle and sweet and sour fish as examples. Pork knuckles are high in saturated fats which are bad for cardiovascular health. Fish, supposed to be a healthy protein has become less healthy due to the deep-frying and high sugar content in the sweet and sour sauce. Eating too much of these foods will indeed lead to an “abundance” new year (in terms of weight)!
I personally think that health is the greatest wealth, making small changes in the ingredients, portion and cooking methods can already help to improve the nutritional values of food significantly. Consider these tips to prepare a healthier reunion meal for your family.
Tips for Healthier Reunion Meal
Include More Vegetable Dishes
Vegetables are high in fibre but low in calories, which means they can fill you up without adding too many calories to the diet. Hence you can better control your portion of other higher calorie dishes. If you’re preparing a meal with 7-8 dishes, 2-3 of them should be a vegetable dish. These are some delicious recipes that you can consider: Asparagus with Lily Bulb and Ginkgo Nuts, Stir-fried Broccoli with Bell Peppers and Cashew Nuts and Luo Han Zai (Buddha’s Delight)
Add Vegetables to Meat Dishes
Yes, more vegetables! Add a variety of colourful vegetables to the meat dishes, not only it helps to enhance the nutrition value but also the appearance of the dish! You can add mushroom and black fungus to the braised meat and more fresh tomato and pineapple slices to the sweet and sour fish to reduce the use of ketchup and sugar. You can also eat the steamed chicken by wrapping it with a lettuce leaf like how we eat Korean Barbeque.
Switch to Whole Grain
Served unpolished brown rice to your guests this year rather than white rice for 4 times the fibre! It also contains more beneficial nutrients like vitamin B, iron and magnesium too. You’ll be surprised that one small bowl of brown rice can help you to feel fuller despite eating a smaller amount of food. Brown rice beehoon and wholewheat mee sua are considered as whole grain too, and I would strongly recommend using them in your noodle stir-fry!
Choose Lean Protein
Choose skinless poultry, lean meat, seafood, egg or tofu over fatty meat. These protein choices are healthier as they contain less saturated fats. Trim off any visible fats from the meat before cooking. Use an oil strainer to scoop off oil gathered at the top of your dish, towards the end of the cooking process. These actions help to further cut back on the fats and calories of the dishes too! Try to include at least one fish dish and tofu dish into your reunion meal. Fish contains heart-healthy fats while tofu is a lean plant protein that contains soy antioxidants which are beneficial for the immune system!
Use Healthy Cooking Methods
Adopt healthy cooking methods like steaming, grilling, baking, boiling, stewing or less-oil stir-frying to save the amount of fat used. Use herbs and spices to season your food instead of salt. This helps to save up a significant amount of sodium which can affect the blood pressure if taken in excess. Making salad is also one of the healthier food preparation methods. Yu Sheng (Raw Fish Salad) is a popular must-have Chinese New Year Food during the celebration in Malaysia and Singapore. Try this Yu Sheng recipe and toss for a healthier and prosperous year ahead!
You do not need to refrain yourself from taking your favourite Chinese New Year food totally! Do practice mindful eating, watch your portion and try these holiday eating tips to stay on track! Don’t forget to stay active too during this Chinese New Year! Put down your phone, get off the couch and play your childhood outdoor games to burn some calories! It will definitely be an awesome family bonding time too! Now, enjoy your holiday and have a good time with your friends and family!
Gong Xi Fa Cai and Happy Chinese New Year from all of us at Glycoleap!