Chinese New Year Food Made Healthy: Bring on The Festivities Without Worry

Feast on Chinese New Year food without worry. Learn about healthier choices you can make when it comes to preparing your favourite dishes.

A family sitting together at the dining table for their Chinese New Year reunion dinner

The Chinese New Year is upon us! Also known as the Spring Festival, the event celebrates the start of a new year based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It’s also a time to reunite with family members and friends and feast upon a lavish spread of Chinese New Year food.

However, many of these dishes are not as healthy. Most of them are generally high in cholesterol, sodium, calories, fats, and sugars. Hence, the elderly and people with diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are susceptible to health complications if they overindulge. Let’s discover the hidden risks associated with three Chinese New Year staples together.

People using chopsticks to toss a bowl of poon choi
Chinese New Year food staples like poon choi is prepared with various high-protein foods and minimal vegetables.

Poon Choi

This one-pot dish has been trending in Malaysia in recent years. Cantonese people prepare this meal with an abundant selection of meat and seafood and minimal vegetables. Though, Chinese restaurants usually offer a frozen take-away option of this meal during the festive season.

The bottom layer of the dish consists of pig skin and vegetables, the middle layer is meat and mushrooms, and the top layer is abalone, scallops, and other seafood products. Generally, this combination of ingredients and a soup makes the dish high in protein, sodium, and fats.

HOW TO MAKE IT HEALTHY: Preparing a healthier version of poon choi only requires a few steps. Firstly, you can reduce the amount of seafood ingredients used to ensure that you eat in moderation. You may also replace these high-cholesterol ingredients with sea cucumber or fish maw. Next, include potassium-rich foods like potato, spinach, Chinese cabbage or daikon radish to the recipe. Chinese cabbage is a low-calorie vegetable that is both flavourful and nutritious. It’s abundant in sulphur and vitamin K, which helps remove toxins from the body and promote bone health respectively. Daikon radish has been found to demonstrate anti-cancer properties. It can also aid digestion. Doing this will also benefit a person’s health by regulating blood pressure and decreasing water retention. You can also complement the dish with nutritious alternatives like brown rice and multi-grain noodles.   

People tossing yee sang that’s served on a turntable using giant chopsticks
Yee sang is a must-have during Chinese New Year in Malaysia and Singapore.

Lap Mei

Cured meat is another must-have Chinese New Year food in Malaysia. A symbol of abundance and prosperity, the delicacy uses black pepper, herbs, and pork or duck meat. The meat usually goes through tedious salting, smoking, and drying to give it its distinctive wax surface. However, the dried meat has a high fat and sodium content, making it unsuitable for people with hypertension, or heart, or kidney disease. 

  

HOW TO MAKE IT HEALTHY: Choose high-quality, low-fat lap mei and eat in moderation. There are many healthier versions of lap mei available in the market that contain leaner cuts of meat . If you prefer traditional lap mei, take it  in moderation and do your best to maintain a balanced diet. Manufacturers typically use salt or sodium nitrate in the curing process to prevent the growth of microbial and Clostridium botulinum. However, ingesting a significant amount of nitrate can cause many undesired health problems. 

Yee Sang

Popularly known as Prosperity Toss, yee sang is prominent in Malaysia and Singapore’s Chinese New Year festivities. The dish represents wealth, success, youth, and vitality. Modern-day yee sang packages contain many ingredients. Examples of these include carrots, chilli, coriander, jellyfish, turnips, daikon radish, red pepper, chopped peanuts and Chinese shrimp crackers. It’s also drizzled with kumquat paste, plum sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.

HOW TO MAKE IT HEALTHY: Make your own yee sang! Begin preparing the dish by shredding several fruits and vegetables. You can use cucumbers, pineapples, and yam beans as ingredients. Then, switch out the use of uncooked ingredients like raw salmon for a smoked version of the fish. Finally, make a salad dressing with cumquat(kumquat) or passion fruit vinegar. Adding honey and white sesame seeds to the vinegar sauce will also enhance its taste.

It’s also necessary for you to exercise during the Chinese New Year break. Brisk walks, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, and simple, at-home exercises can help burn excess calories. Happy holidays!

References

  1. China Highlights. 2022. Chinese New Year 2022: Tiger Year, 7 Foods, 6 Traditions, 18 Taboos.  [Accessed 14 January 2022]
  2. Wikipedia. Poon choi.  [Accessed 14 January 2022]
  3. Centre for Food Safety. Lap-mei (Chinese Preserved Meat) and Food Safety.  [Accessed 14 January 2022]
  4. Wikipedia. Yusheng.  [Accessed 14 January 2022] 

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