How Many Calories in CNY Foods? Dietitian Reviews

Some festive delicacies are only available during the Lunar New Year, and they have a special significance of being lucky or auspicious.

It’s often said that if you eat such foods, they bring good luck, fortune and good health to those who enjoy and eat them. 

How true is that? PULSE Clinical Dietitian Adelyn Khoo shares more about the nutrition facts (especially calories!) about some lucky Chinese New Year foods, and tips on how to make them healthier for all the good luck and fortune that you’ll usher in this year. 

1.Mandarin Oranges (桔子)

The mandarin orange is a traditional symbol of good fortune and prosperity, as the word “Mandarin” when spoken in Chinese “桔” sounds similar to “luck 吉”.

The orange hue is also said to symbolise “gold 金”, making it an auspicious fruit to give to loved ones as a symbolic wish of wishing them happiness and prosperity.  


Nutrition Fact: 1 mandarin has 45 calories, 40mg Vitamin C, 9g sugar (fruit sugar) and 1.5g dietary fibre. The nutritional benefits make this a good snack to have during CNY.

As a mandarin is usually sweeter than other oranges, with an easy-to-peel skin and easily divided inner sections; this may result in overeating as fruit is perceived to be healthy. 


Health Tip: Given the high content of naturally-occurring fruit sugar, keep to just 5 mandarins (calories similar to a bowl of rice) a day.  

2. Pineapple Tarts

Pineapple tart is a buttery biscuit base topped with pineapple jam, and is often given as a gift during Chinese New Year. In the Hokkien dialect, pineapple is known as ong lai, which literally means “fortune come”.

Nutrition Fact: 1 pineapple tart contains 82 calories, 2.5g total fat and 15g sugar. 4 pineapple tarts can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar, which is equivalent to 1.5 cans of Coca-Cola (less sugar)!


Health Tip:

Given the high content of sugar and fat in this buttery sweet tart, keep to just 2 tarts in 1 day. 

3. Bak Kwa (肉干)

Bak Kwa is dried meat (most commonly pork) that is traditionally sliced into square slices and barbecued over charcoal, with a combination of spices.

The red colour of the meat is also deemed as auspicious, and when given as gifts, it means to bring good luck, prosperity and to ward off negativity to the giver.


Nutrition Facts: 

  • 1 large square piece of pork bak kwa (100g) contains 370 calories, 17g fat, 20g protein and 35g sugar.  
  • 1 coin-shape bak kwa (15g) contains 55 calories, 2.5g fat, 3g protein, and 5.2g sugar

Health Tip:

Though bak kwa contains protein, the high fat and sugar content outweighs the benefits of protein. Go for smaller pieces of bak kwa (coin-shape or small squares; ~15g for 1 piece) instead of the large square piece, and keep to 3 small pieces in 1 day. 


4. Dumplings (饺子)

Dumplings symbolise wealth for its shape is like an ancient Chinese gold ingot. It is often eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year as its Chinese name “饺子“ means changing of (the) years.

In China, coins will be hidden in some dumplings, and the person that discovers them can get good luck and great wealth in the coming year.

Dumplings can be made with a variety of fillings, including prawn, pork, chicken, leek, chives and cabbage; and can be steamed, boiled or fried.


Nutrition Facts: 

  • 1 fried pork and chives dumpling contains 82 calories, 2.5g protein, 5.2g fat, and 6g carbohydrates 
  • 1 steamed pork and chives dumpling contains 65 calories, 2.5g protein, 3.5g fat, and 6g carbohydrates.
  • 1 steamed prawn and chives dumpling contains 45 calories, 2.5g protein, 2g fat, and 6g carbohydrates. 


Health Tip:

  • Making your own: Go for leaner filings such as lean minced pork/chicken, prawn and include vegetables such as cabbage or leeks. Steaming or boiling the dumplings will also help to reduce.
  • Eating outside: Choose prawn or seafood with vegetable dumplings, instead of the traditional pork/chicken dumpling and steamed dumplings will help to cut down on the amount of saturated fat, and sodium. 
  • Have dumplings as part of a meal, limit to just 3-4 meat dumplings, and go for other fish/chicken/meat and vegetable dishes. 

5.Tang Yuan (汤圆)

Tang yuan is an Chinese dessert comprising glutinous rice balls (may contain fillings inside) cooked in a sweet syrup.

Its round shape and Chinese pronunciation symbolises union, so it is often eaten throughout the Chinese new year period, but especially on the 15th day (commonly known as Dongzhi, or the beginning of Winter Solstice).

Nutrition Facts:

  • 1 bowl of plain tang yuan (cooked in plain sugar syrup): 300 calories, 0.6g fat, 56g carbohydrates, 15g sugar
  • 1 bowl of peanut tang yuan (added peanuts in soup): 620 calories, 32g fat, 15g saturated fat, 57g carbohydrates, 15g sugar

Health Tip:

#1 Go for plain tang yuan instead of those with fillings, it will cut your calories, fat and sugar intake by at least 30%!

#2 Pair or add unsweetened tau huay (soy beancurd) with your tang yuan for an additional source of protein, and choose to take less tang yuan.

#3 Keep to just 1 small bowl of tang yuan (limit to 3 big tang yuan with fillings).

Good health is not granted with just Chinese New Year greetings alone. With the above healthy tips in mind, let’s make the conscious effort to eat a little healthier this festive period.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we will cover nutrition facts and health tips for some Chinese New Year meals!

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Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Senior Clinical Dietitian

View more posts by Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

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