Chinese New Year. Three dreaded words to anyone observing a healthier diet. Blame the two weeks long home visits where every host has trays of yummy, calorie-dense festive treats – pineapple tarts, bak kwa, love letters, peanut cookies, kueh lapis – and all the tasty celebration meals (yu sheng, nian gao) lovingly home-cooked. All impossible to pass on a second serving.
It is no wonder many of us find ourselves a little heavier after the Chinese New Year period. After all, an additional 500 kcal of food (the equivalent of 1.5 slices of bak kwa, or six pineapple tarts) intake per day can cause half to one kilogram weight gain within a week, which means after the 15-day festive period, you could be two kilograms heavier!
Knowing all this does not mean you have to deprive yourself of enjoying your favourite Lunar New Year goodies. Everyone is entitled to a little indulgence and the key to a good diet lies in moderation.
Here are 10 easy ways to keep you on a healthier eating track this Chinese New Year:
Eat some fruits before you snack: Mandarin oranges – the ubiquitous symbol of good luck for the season – will be in abundance, so why not enjoy the juicy goodness of mandarin oranges before you indulge in your favourite pineapple tarts? They are packed with vitamin C goodness and fibre to keep you full longer, so you will likely reduce your intake of sugar-laden snacks. If you need more distractions to keep your hands busy and away from the snack platter, offer your peeling “services” to relatives who will be more than appreciative.
Set your own boundaries: We don’t mean telling off nosey relatives for asking (again) when you are getting married. The best diets are the ones that are planned, so have in mind how much is too much before you go visiting. Try not to eat more than five pieces of festive treats per visit and avoid eating directly from the snack platter – you will be shocked how much calories are in CNY snacks. Use a plate or bowl to portion out your indulgence and try not to eat the same thing twice.
Trick yourself: Visual cues are more effective than you think. Just choosing a smaller plate helps you eat less as the same amount of food looks bigger on a smaller plate. As a host, cutting up bak kwa into bite-sized pieces will help everyone snack more moderately.
Be a polite eater: Do you know it takes 20 minutes to feel full? All the more reason to eat and snack mindfully. Not only will it help the digestion process, slowing down will also make sure you do not overeat. Plus, this means you will have more time to catch up with the relatives you may only meet once a year.
Avoid visiting on an empty stomach: It is hard enough to exercise self-control; more so if you’re starving. Practice a time-honoured networking rule and never show up to an event starving. This will help you avoid gorging and binging on high-calorie festive treats and cookies unnecessarily. Plan to have a light meal/snack (e.g. wholegrain bun with glass of milk or yoghurt with fresh fruit) before you head out for a day of visiting.
Drink carefully: If you think you can keep off the pounds by drinking instead of snacking on home visits, think again. A 250ml sweetened packet drink contains as much as 5.5 teaspoons of sugar, half of Health Promotion Board’s recommended daily limit of sugar intake! Opt for a lower-sugar drink labelled with Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice Symbol, or HCS, which contains at least 25 percent less sugar than other regular sweetened beverages, or go for sugar-free green tea and oolong tea. Better yet, have plain water, the best thirst quencher at zero calorie.
Make your calories count: Focus on quality, not quantity. Rather than taste all the dishes on the dining table, choose three to five of your favourites, or something you do not get to eat on a daily basis. Take smaller portions as festive foods are likely to be rich and more calorie-laden than usual. Enjoy your plate and abstain from a second helping.
Use natural ingredients to flavour your dishes: As a host, serving more nutritious food does not mean trading on taste. Add flavour with spices, herbs, lemon juice or fruits, without or sparingly adding sugar or salt. For instance, if you are baking pineapple tarts, use fresh fruit for more flavour and less calories (Tip: opt for riper pineapples that taste sweeter so you do not need as much sugar).
Prepare meals using healthier cooking methods: Focus on boiling, grilling, steaming, baking or roasting dishes, or if a dish calls for a stir-fry, use less oil in order to reduce the total fat and calorie consumption. If a recipe requires sauce, look to use one that carries the HCS that will have lower sodium content. When putting together a steamboat meal, replace processed food such as crab meat sticks, fishballs and sausages with fresh ingredients like fish, mushrooms and vegetables. Instead of using ready-packed soup stock which can contain a high amount of sodium, prepare your own stock by boiling skinless, lean chicken meat with white cabbage, carrot and corn, and complete the meal with wholegrains like brown rice or brown rice vermicelli for the added nutrition.
Serve healthier prosperity dishes: It is Chinese New Year, so there is no avoiding multiple rounds of lo hei sessions. If you are serving yu sheng at home, make a point to use more fresh options (grated cabbage, lettuce, cucumber) rather than preserved vegetables. To add sweetness and reduce the amount of plum sauce used, add fresh fruit like shredded mango, pear and guava. Or buy yusheng like Chef Chen Green Tea Prosperity Yusheng or Sin Hwa De Fa Cai Yusheng, whose sauces contain up to 60% less sugar than regular yusheng sauces, available at supermarkets
Earn Healthpoints and rewards such as F&B and shopping vouchers in the Eat, Drink, Shop Healthy Challenge when you purchase healthier options at participating outlets. Find out more here.