Chinese New Year is always a fun-filled time with family, friends and food. Amidst the endless gatherings and tempting goodies, it is easy for us to let our hair down and indulge in whatever is presented to us.
But not without guilt.
Watching the waistline inches pile on can be quite depressing — so here are some health tips endorsed by dietitians of Mount Elizabeth Hospital on how to enjoy this festive season without worrying about busting your healthy diet!
Water is going to be your best friend this Chinese New Year. Even when you’re mildly dehydrated, your body can mistake thirst for hunger, enticing you to reach for another pineapple tart. So before you head to any event, make sure to drink a glass of water.
Water is also an ideal choice of beverage when you’re thirsty, because it contains zero calories and keeps your weight in check, says Lee Yee Hong, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
It is also super important to drink lots of water after a big day of eating to help flush out the wastes accumulated from feasting.
Watch your portions
That goes without saying, but that doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself that extra cookie. Rather than agonising over a self-inflicted total-snack-ban, try to limit your snacking to just 1 or 2 pieces per snack. Another way to snack less is to talk more! While you’re interacting with the party, chances are you’ll be too distracted to pay attention to the snack table.
When it comes to bigger meals, opt for a smaller plate to pace yourself and limit your intake. Big plates tend to encourage bigger quantity of food and you definitely don’t want to overeat, especially if you’ve got dinner after dinner lined up.
Snack less by not going on an empty stomach
A good way to limit your snacking is NOT to visit on an empty stomach, advises Lee Yee Hong.
This sounds counterintuitive – and many of us are tempted to keep our stomachs hungry before we visit to ‘make space’ for the feasting during visits! This, however, sets us up for overeating and snacking too much!
Eat a healthy snack, like fruit or yogurt bar with nuts before visiting. This helps to prevent overeating during your visit, as well as increases overall fibre intake to meet daily need.
While you snack, don’t forget to keep a balanced diet of fibres, proteins and vitamins. These New Year goodies are not a good replacement of a proper meal so make sure to include enough vegetables in your meals!
Don’t quit just because it’s Chinese New Year, but make it easier on yourself! Staying active is super important not only for your weight loss efforts but just your health in general.
Plan a workout schedule and stick to it. If you foresee you’re not going to have time (or discipline) to stick to a workout regime during the festive season, aim for a 30-minute walk on most days. You can do this first thing in the morning so that any distraction that pops up during the day won’t stop you from getting your workout in.
Or simply integrate a workout into your Chinese New Year routine! Take every opportunity to move: play with the kids, or park your car further from your destination. Perhaps skip the mahjong and grab all your family members for a hike or walk in the park. Just move your body!
Get enough sleep
Playing mahjong and card games to the wee hours of the morning could have been your yearly Chinese New Year ritual but the problem with having an inadequate amount of sleep is that it can lead to bad food choices and cancelled workout plans. When you’re tired, you would want to eat more but also feel less satisfied after you eat. Hello, unwanted binges!
The occasional late night won’t totally disrupt your health but be mindful not to have too many over the holiday period. Take advantage of any chance to take a nap or have a break.
Traditional Chinese New Year goodies are packed with sugars and fats. Not to mention they contain very little nutritional value.
Here’s a calorie count guide of 10 most popular Chinese New Year goodies:
#1 Nian gao – 482 calories per serving
#2 Bak kwa – 179 calories per piece
#3 Peanuts – 170 calories per bowl (30g)
#4 Kueh lapis 157 calories per piece
#5 Love letter – 112 calories per piece
#6 Cornflake cookie – 82.8 calories per piece
#7 Pineapple tart – 82 calories per piece
#8 Kueh bahulu – 40 calories per piece
#9 Kueh bangkit – 23 calories per piece
#10 Mini dried shrimp roll – 22 calories per piece
From pineapple tarts to bak kwa being plated out on a constant flow, it will be near impossible to steer clear of these yummy delicacies. If you are moving from one house to another and eating everything offered in each house, you will definitely overeat so ration yourself the amount you can afford to eat per household. You should aim for not more than 2000 calories in a day.
Prepare a healthy reunion dinner
Homemade dinners are always the healthier option because you get to choose what actually goes into the dishes. This year, pass on the buffet dinner at a fancy restaurant and opt for a homemade steamboat dinner!
Here are some dietitian-approved tips to whip up a healthy yet delicious reunion dinner:
- Include a variety of colourful vegetables in your cooking to add nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals for the health of the family
- As the Chinese phrase 年年有余 (nián nián yôu yú) goes, include a fish dish for heart health
- Choose lean meat and skinless poultry over fatty meat
- Instead of white rice or bee hoon, serve unpolished rice or brown rice bee hoon or buckwheat noodle as these whole-grains food are abundant in nutrients and fibre
- Use sauces/marinates with the Healthier Choice symbol as these are lower in salt and will hence help reduce the sodium content of your dishes. Keep in mind to use sauces in moderation
- If you're having hotpot steamboat, prepare the soup base with soy bean and more vegetables, instead of instant or ready made stock, to reduce salt intake and increase the soup's nutritional value for the whole family
- Host your guest with healthier food choices. Prepare homemade iced lemon juice or flower tea as drinks instead of sweetened packet or canned drinks. Serve a plate of fruit salad or healthy nuts as snacks to replace some Chinese New Year goodies. Be creative!
With these realistic approaches to the New Year, we hope you have a blasting good (and guilt-free) time soaking up all the goodness – food and family included. Now go forth and have a great year ahead!
Article reviewed by Lee Yee Hong, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital