For those of us in Hong Kong, starting our new years resolution is sometimes a difficult decision with our Chinese Lunar New Year so close to the gregorian new year on January 1. Some may choose to postpone their new years resolutions to February - typically to be healthier, lose weight, adopt some healthy habits etc.
Meanwhile, some who’ve eaten too much during Christmas are ready to start their new year with new habits on January 1. Whichever camp you’re in, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that goals and resolutions are set and that you’re intentional about them.
Chinese New Year is just one of many holidays and celebrations that will be tempting you to go off track from your healthy habits this year. So see it as an opportunity to practice your willpower and intentionality rather than an inhibitor to your goals.
Like all things, planning is the first step to success. And in order to plan, you’ll need to know what you will be stepping into this holiday and create an action plan for it.
Know the Facts
I’m a firm believer of knowledge and don’t subscribe to the doctrine of ‘ignorance is bliss’ especially when it comes to our health. What you don’t know could set you back a few pounds and health goals. I personally find it helpful to understand both the benefits and harms of each food I put into my body so that when I’m presented with them, I can make an educated decision on whether I should eat it or how much of it to eat.
Below are some ‘fun facts’ for you to recall when you’re tempted with that second helping of turnip cake or “jin dui’ (fried sesame ball).
- Nearly 45 percent of people gain an average of 1.7kg during the Chinese New Year holidays.
- A slice (approx 138g) of ‘nin gao’ (Chinese New Year cake) adds on 233 Calories, 12g of fat and a whopping 16.5 g of sugar*. Steamed ‘nin gao’ is slightly better. Check out our steamed ‘nin gao’ recipe.
You will need to either run for 24 minutes of running or cycle for 37 minutes to work this off.
- One ‘jin dui’ gives you 127 calories, 2g of fat and 8g of sugar*.
The effort to work off this one little ball will require 19 minutes of cycling or 45 minutes of housework.
- Lap Cheong (Chinese sausages)
Half a lap cheong is 110 calories*, and full of sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium.
- ‘Poon Choi’ (Buddha Jumps Over the Wall)
One bowl is 350 Calories. These traditional delicacies with layers of seafood, fatty meat and vegetables have an unbalanced ratio of meat to vegetables.
- Braised Dishes with Oyster Sauce
A lot of the braised dishes like mushrooms, sea cucumber, fish maw, and ‘fat choy’ though braised are high in sodium, often using oyster sauce, soy sauce and salt. 1 teaspoon of oyster sauce contains 306mg so consuming 2 teaspoons would already reach the upper limits of the daily intake per meal.
Your brain takes about 20 minutes to register that your stomach is full
so slow down and take the time to chat with your loved ones and simply enjoy the food.
*all data are estimate
The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection also have a few of their own health tips to be cautious of during Chinese New Year. Read more here:
Having said that, we obviously can’t just snack on carrot sticks during our family gatherings. Follow some of the tips below to enjoy Chinese New Year without setting back your health goals for the year.
1. Snack intentionally (or not at all)
Prioritise your favourite snack and only eat that. Studies show that by eating the same thing , you are less likely to overeat. Set a limit that you are comfortable with and stick to it.
Even better, if you can avoid the snacking all together and just enjoy the main meals you’ll be better off than snacking and feasting.
The Invisible Kitchen has an article about how to prepare a ‘Healthy Chinese New Year Box’
Liv Magazine offers suggestions to prepare healthy ‘cheun hups’
2. Use a small plate
Use a small plate to control your portions. Eating straight from the ‘chuen hup’ or from the poon choi will make it hard for you to calculate what you have eaten.
Fill your plate up at the beginning of the meal with vegetables first and only after you have finished the vegetables proceed with filling your plate with the other dishes. Resist second helpings.
3. Chew well
Chewing well will automatically lead to slower eating and fewer intake of calories. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to realize we are full.
Chewing will also allow for better digestion. You can also use a digestive enzyme to help break down the vast variety and quantity of foods at each meal.
4. Burn calories efficiently
Morning, afternoon or evening workouts, whichever your preference, just be sure to move. Burn the calories more efficiently with Tabata style workouts or HIIT (high intensity interval training) that will burn through those extra calories more efficiently and effectively than pure endurance cardio or strengthening workouts.
5. Eat a Variety of Vegetables
Including vegetables in every meal is highly recommended, especially because during the Lunar New Year holidays we are having an imbalance of meat to vegetables.
Select five different colours of vegetables, like tomato, corn, pumpkin, broccoli, mushroom and eggplant making up a rainbow of colours. Colours won't just beautify your dining table, it will also provide extra fiber and an array of vitamin, minerals and phytochemicals.
6. Healthier Alternatives
You don’t need to deprive yourself of your favourite Chinese new year dishes. Find healthier alternatives that are lower in sugar, sodium and preservatives. Better yet, make it a holiday activity to make a dish together.
You will have more control over the quality of ingredients if you are making your own dishes. Choose a lower glycemic index sugar like coconut palm sugar that is easy to integrate and substitute into recipes. See our healthy ‘nin gao’ recipe for ideas.
Written by: Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist
See our healthy Chinese New Year snacks and ingredients :
Healthy Chuen Hup
Healthy Alternatives for CNY Recipes
Coconut Secret Aminos (soy sauce substitute)
Organic Tamari (soy sauce substitute)