One of the best things to look forward to every Chinese New Year – aside from getting ang pow – is the delectable festive food indulgences.
From all the cookie-munching during house-visiting to the all-time favourite dishes you just can’t miss at family and friends’ reunions, it is no surprise that most of us tend to gain a little, if not a lot, festive weight during this occasion.
This is especially if we really celebrate the entire 15 days of the New Year.
But the tight jeans and pretty dresses that we can no longer fit into are not the main issue of concern.
Most of these tasty festive treats can turn into health threats when over-indulged in, especially if they contain high amounts of salt, sugar and fats.
While going on a diet this, or any, Chinese New Year is probably not really something most of us can achieve, we can control the damage by making smart choices to save us from any post-overindulgent regrets.
This can be done by practicing moderation, making healthier food choices, and getting in some form of exercise and physical activity whenever you are able to.
Let’s take a look at a few popular Chinese New Year delicacies that are satisfying to the taste buds, but contain high amount of fats, sugar and salt.
Lap mei fan
This is a popular dish at Chinese New Year reunion dinners and is prized for its high fat content.
Also known as waxed meat claypot rice, this dish is made with different types of waxed meat, as well as Chinese pork sausage and Chinese duck or goose liver sausage.
As the main ingredients are processed meat, this dish contains high amounts of salt and saturated fats, which consist mainly of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol.
If you are making this dish at home, try opting for healthier alternatives, such as using fresh and lean meat instead, and eating it with a balanced serving of vegetables on the side.
If you’re eating this in a restaurant, then make sure to eat more vegetables as the soluble fibre in the greens may help to lower the bad cholesterol.
Bak kwa, as seen in this filepic, is a popular snack, especially during Chinese New Year, and requires self-control to not overindulge.
Similar to jerky, this Chinese-style sweet-savoury barbecued preserved meat is an all-time favourite snack amongst the Chinese.
It is often eaten either on its own or with bread as a sandwich filling.
Made out of processed meat and internal organs from animal sources, bak kwa contains high salt, sugar and saturated fats.
One piece (90g) of bak kwa gives you about 370kcal of energy.
Its high fat content comes from the minced meat, which is often the fatter part of the meat, rather than lean mince, to provide tenderness and flavour.
There is no healthy way to enjoy this snack aside from practicing moderation.
Always keep in mind that high consumption of saturated fats will lead to the increase of bad cholesterol in our body, which increases our risk for heart disease.
Eating the skin of the Peking duck, as seen in this filepic, is equivalent to eating the fattest part of the duck. Try going for the lean meat instead.
Duck meat is among the most flavourful poultry meats and roasted duck is a favourite dish among the Chinese.
Eating the skin by itself in the popular dish, peking duck roll, pretty much equals to consuming the part of the duck with the highest level of saturated fat.
Try going for the lean meat should you enjoy this tasty choice of poultry as it contains less saturated fat, and eat it together with more greens.
Also, for a healthier choice, do not pair eating this with a sweet or fizzy drink that is high in sugar content. Instead, take plain Chinese tea or water with it.
Eating kuih kapit directly out of the tin, as seen in this filepic, tends to lead to having one too many. Count them out first and eat them from a plate.
Do not underestimate the diminutive size of these fan-shaped snacks.
Kuih kapit, also known as love letters, gets its taste mainly from the high amount of coconut milk or santan used to make it. Coconut milk contains high levels of saturated fats that raise the bad cholesterol in our bodies.
As these treats are small in size and rather addictive, we tend to pop a little too many into our mouth without much control or knowing when exactly to stop munching.
Four pieces of this snack (50g) totals up to 210 calories.
So, next time, instead of snacking on them directly out of the tin and losing count of how many you’ve eaten, put them onto small serving dishes where you can control exactly how many you eat.
Health is wealth
Let’s face the facts, practising self-control and moderation in the face of a festivity with so much good food can be tough.
But there are ways to help balance out this short period of overindulgence.
Increasing your physical activity is one method.
Don’t just sit around chatting with your relatives all the time, get up and move from group to group to socialise more, remain standing up while you chat, walk around the house or garden you are visiting, help with the serving or cleaning up, and of course, keep up your regular exercise routine, whether it be going to the gym or walking around the park.
You can also try taking foods or drinks that are rich in plant sterols to help lower bad cholesterol. Research shows that consuming 1.2g of plant sterols daily can help to lower cholesterol levels by about seven percent.
By lowering bad cholesterol, one can reduce potential health risks and heart disease.
And do not disregard getting your regular medical check-ups as a precautionary step to ensure your good health and counter any unwanted health issues.
High cholesterol levels and heart disease do not discriminate between young or old and fit or unfit. Remember that at the end of the day, the greatest prosperity that one can ask for is good health.
And prevention is always better than a cure.
This article is courtesy of Nestlé Omega Plus.
As most of us know by now, this Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Year of the Earth Dog in the Chinese zodiac.
In celebration of man’s best friend, we round up how your furry friend could give your health a boost in the coming year.
Reduced risk of allergies
Various studies have now found a link between owning a dog and a lower risk of allergies, especially in children.
Research presented in 2017 at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting detailed how children of mothers who had been in daily contact with a dog while pregnant had a lower risk of eczema by age two, and that pet dogs could also have a protective effect against asthma symptoms.
Swedish researchers also found, after looking at more than one million Swedish children, that those who grew up with dogs had a 15% lower risk of asthma.
A small American study found that despite a dog’s snoring, sleeping with your pooch could actually help you get a better night’s sleep.
After recruiting 40 adults and their pets for the study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the United States found that regardless of the size of the dog, sleeping with a furry friend in the room helped some people sleep better.
However, having a dog on the bed didn’t have the same effect, with the team finding that those who let their canines get too cozy, did it at the expense of a good night’s sleep.
“Most people assume having pets in the bedroom is a disruption.
“We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets,” commented the study’s author Dr Lois Krahn.
Improved mental health
After looking at 17 research papers, a British review published just this week found that having a pet could have a positive effect on managing long-term mental health conditions.
Owning a dog, or other animal such as a cat, goldfish or hamster, was found to be beneficial by helping to distract owners from the stress of having a mental health problem and helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Dogs also had the added benefit of helping owners increase their level of physical activity through walking, which in turn can also help improve mental health and encourage social interaction with other dog owners.
Pet dogs have also been found to help support children when they are stressed, while a 2015 American study found that children who have a dog at home also have a lower level of anxiety than those who do not.
It can be hard to find the motivation to get moving sometimes, but most dog owners will tell you, you don’t have much choice if your dog is asking for walks.
Many recent studies have also found that those with a dog do indeed get more exercise, with a dog being especially beneficial for helping seniors to get out of the house and get moving.
A British study published in 2017 found that seniors who walk their dogs clock up around 30 minutes more physical activity a day than non-dog owners, even during the colder, wetter months, with an Australian study also finding that dog walkers achieved at least 30 minutes of physical activity on more days per week than non-dog walkers, helping them to meet the 150 minutes of physical activity per week currently recommended for good health. – AFP Relaxnews
Until recently, when Hongkongers talked about “yu sang” (“raw fish”), they would have meant the Japanese interpretation – sashimi. But these days, around Lunar New Year, the term is also used to refer to the festive Singaporean dish that also goes by the names yu sheng, lo hei and prosperity toss.
In Singapore, yu sheng (yee sang in Malaysia) is a festive salad of sorts – a large platter of colourful, finely cut or grated ingredients, such as carrot, cucumber, white radish, pickle and, of course, raw fish, along with an array of condiments such as sesame oil, plum sauce, crushed peanuts, crisp deep-fried wonton skins, pepper and cinnamon.
Home cooks will have their own interpretations, with ingredients differing according to taste. And restaurants in Singapore have come up with decadent versions featuring the likes of abalone and gold leaf.
Of his family’s version, Goz Lee, author of Plusixfive: A Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook (2013), says, “I like to marinate my raw salmon overnight in Shaoxing rice wine and soy sauce. I really like pomelo, so I add loads. We also add crispy fried fish skins.
“It’s great also because it’s really communal – even the preparation – everyone gets in on it, arranging it nicely, and then everyone will hold an ingredient and have something auspicious to say about it as they add it to the dish.”
The name of each ingredient is usually a homophone of a word that is part of an auspicious saying; for instance, “yu” is the pronunciation for both the words “fish” and “abundance” – the latter being part of the greeting “nian nian you yu” (“may you have an abundance [of whatever you desire] every year”).
Prior to the prosperity toss, yu sheng ingredients are perfectly arranged.
As the ingredients are added, diners recite the corresponding saying, with exaggerated tossing using their chopsticks. It’s said that the higher one tosses, the happier one will be, which comes from another homophone – in Cantonese, “lo hei” means to “toss”, and “hei” also means happiness.
The tradition of yu sheng is practised in Singapore mostly among those of Cantonese origin. In Hong Kong, however, raw fish from a Cantonese kitchen is almost unheard of. One of the earliest records of the Cantonese eating raw fish can be found in the book Sui Tang Jia Hua, by Tang-dynasty scholar Liu Su, who wrote about life and customs in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.
In some cities in Guangdong, such as Chiuchow, Foshan and Jiangmen, yu sheng is still popular, but consists of a smaller spread of ingredients than its Singaporean cousin, and is eaten year-round, without the dramatic tossing.
[Yu sheng is] great also because it’s really communal – even the preparation – everyone gets in on it, arranging it nicely, and then everyone will hold an ingredient and have something auspicious to say about it as they add it to the dish.
Many Chinese in Singapore are descendants of Cantonese migrants from these port cities, which could explain how the dish made its way down from the South China Sea. Lee, who is in his 30s, says the Lunar New Year tradition has been around for as long as he can remember.
Although now popular across Malaysia and the Lion City, according to Singapore’s National Library Board, the invention of Lunar New Year yu sheng, with its plum sauce, bright colours and group tossing, is credited to four Cantonese chefs popularly known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” – Tham Yew Kai, Sin Leong, Lau Yoke Pui and Hooi Kok Wai, in the 1960s.
All were mentored by Luo Chen, a Hong Kong-born chef who headed the legendary Cantonese restaurant at Singapore’s now-closed Cathay Hotel. Even after they each branched out to open some of Singapore’s most iconic Cantonese restaurants, they would get together to create dishes, including the festive version of yu sheng.
It is thought that the large platter and communal tossing made it a fun group activity that perfectly fits the joyous atmosphere of the Lunar New Year, which gradually made it a tradition in Singapore and beyond. – South China Morning Post/Janice Leung Hayes