Chinese New Year feasting: Separating fact from myth
Published on 18 January 2023
We ask NUP dietitian Bernice Tan if these five popular methods that people use to watch their weight and stay healthy during Chinese New Year really works.
From steamboat meals, to plates of yu sheng and pen cai, to snacks like pineapple tarts and kueh bangkits, food often plays a huge part in every Chinese New Year celebration.
Given the amount of delicious food that are readily available during this festive period, it can be hard to watch your diet and stay disciplined in eating healthy.
But, do you really need to put that pineapple tart back into its container? Is it enough for you to put in an additional hour of exercise to burn off the extra calories you will be consuming?
We find out from Ms Bernice Tan, National University Polyclinics (NUP) dietitian, if the following methods are really effective in helping you maintain your weight and stay healthy this Chinese New Year.
To avoid weight gain, I should avoid all my favourite CNY snacks
MYTH – You do not have to avoid all your favourite snacks during the festive season. However, you can be a little more selective and make healthier food choices. You can also follow these tips:
- Eat in moderation. Do not devour the entire tub of snacks by yourself. Instead, take a few pieces and share the rest with your family and friends.
- Practise portion control. Avoid eating out of the bag or container as you are likely to overeat. Take some out, put it in a bowl, and stop after you have finished your portion.
- Look out for reduced sugar/ fat options. For example, choose baked rice crackers instead of snacks like potato chips, cookies or deep fried fish skin; baked unsalted nuts/seeds instead of fried peanuts, and baked nian gao instead of deep fried nian gao.
- Look out for options with the “Healthier Choice” symbol.
- Consider baking your own cakes or tarts. You can do the following to make your treats healthier:
- Reduce the amount of sugar.
- Add fresh fruits to naturally sweeten your bakes.
- Replace butter with canola oil, sunflower oil, applesauce, mashed banana or avocado.
- Click here for a list of recipes that are healthy, delicious, and easy to prepare.
I should skip breakfast/lunch since I will be snacking during house visits
MYTH – Skipping your meals can make you feel hungry, causing you to indulge in more snacks.
Instead, fill your main meals with wholegrains, lean protein, and lots of vegetables. This helps with blood sugar control and prevents hunger pangs, which often leads to overeating and snacking on high-fat snacks.
Another tip would be to avoid over-stocking on snacks for your guests, as you might end up having to finish the leftovers after Chinese New Year.
I should limit my intake of sugary drinks/alcohol and drink more water instead
FACT – Sugary drinks and alcohol may be a norm during special occasions like Chinese New Year, but these admittedly refreshing beverages are unfortunately full of ‘empty calories’. This means that these drinks add on to your calories for the day without providing any nutritional benefits, which leads to weight gain.
The good news is, you do not have to stick to drinking just plain water for the entirety of the festive season! Instead, try the following:
- Drink reduced sugar/unsweetened beverages (even for drink mixers). If you crave a refreshing beverage, try adding lemon or cucumber slices to your water, or have unsweetened fruit-flavoured teas and infusions.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. Keep to one standard drink per day for women, and two standard drinks per day for men. A standard drink equates to: one can of beer (330ml, 5% alcohol content), or a half glass of wine (100ml, 15% alcohol content), or one shot of spirit/hard liquor (30ml, 40% alcohol content).
- Drink a cup of plain water or unsweetened beverage after every cup of sugary drink/alcohol.
I do not need to watch my food intake during Chinese New Year, so long as I exercise
MYTH – Most people who put on weight after the festive season tend to underestimate the calories they take in, and overestimate the calories they burn through exercise.
After all, festive snacks are usually loaded with extra sugar and fat, and are high in calories. As such, it is easy to gain weight if you eat these snacks liberally. Instead, enjoy your Chinese New Year snacks in moderation, and combine that with added exercise, especially if you know that you have overeaten. Doing this can help you to maintain your weight during the festive season!
I should add more vegetables into my steamboat meal
FACT – Vegetables are low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibre, so it is recommended that you eat as much of them as possible. In particular, the fibre found in vegetables can fill you up and prevent you from overeating during festive meals.
- Start your steamboat meal with a variety of vegetables such as bok choy, spinach, tang-oh, cabbage, watercress and tomatoes. You can also add other ingredients like bamboo shoots and a variety of mushrooms.
- Use vegetables to flavour your soup, or use it as a soup base. Examples of such vegetables include corn, carrot, turnip, radish, pumpkin and potatoes.
In consultation with Bernice Tan, Dietitian, NUP