How healthy are your Chinese New Year dishes?

Let us take a closer look at the nutrition facts of 3 lucky Chinese New Year meals, and health tips on how to make them healthier, for all the good luck and fortune that you’ll usher in this year.

1.Yu Sheng (鱼生)

Yu sheng is a dish of (raw/smoked) fish with vegetables and served with a plum sauce dressing and other condiments. It is deemed auspicious because of the homonymic meanings behind its ingredients, which suggest blessings and good fortune for the new year. “Yu” is a homonym for “fish” and “abundance”, while “sheng” means both “raw” and “life”. 

Together, yusheng implies abundance of wealth and long life, and it involves a group of people combining the ingredients of this salad on a plate, tossing the salad together and uttering auspicious phrases.

Nutrition Facts:

  • 1 standard Yu Sheng dish contains 561 calories, 42g fat, 18.6g protein, 27g of carbohydrates, and 12g of dietary fibre.
  • Though the main ingredients are a variety of vegetables, these vegetables are often pickled with preservatives and sugar. Together with the oil, plum sauce dressing, and deep-fried crackers, this dish can be rather high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar! 

Health Tips:

#1 Halve the amount of plum sauce and oil added.

#2 Use just 1 packet of deep-fried crackers, and/or substitute the other packet with mixed nuts or multigrain crackers.

#3 Swap out candied fruits and pickled vegetables with fresh fruits such as grapefruit, orange, or berries, and fresh vegetables, salad greens or purple cabbage. 

2. Steamboat / Hotpot (火锅)

A staple at reunion dinners and festive gatherings with family, friends or colleagues, this richly-flavoured soup-based meal is often seen to be hearty and nourishing, 

 

Steamboat is symbolic of reunion as the steamboat pot is typically round in shape, which represents “reunion 团圆” in Chinese. Steamboat features a variety of fresh/processed raw ingredients and 1-4 soup bases, where the food is freshly cooked on the table. 

As you wait for your food to cook, this also presents a great opportunity to reconnect, catch-up and bond with your family members. 

 

Nutrition Facts:
1. High in Sodium:
Popular steamboat ingredients, such as fish balls, fish cakes, seafood balls, crab sticks, meat balls, dumplings, sausages, cheese tofu; are all processed foods high in sodium and chemical preservatives. 

The soup bases (unless home-cooked with meat bones, or low salt) also contain MSG, salt and other seasonings, which can be high in sodium. In addition, if you pair your meal with sauces, that’s additional sodium too. 

One can easily devour a dozen of these perennial favourite ingredients, along with unlimited bowls of tasty soup in one sitting. Just 5 fish balls and 5 seafood balls alone adds up to 1,000mg of sodium (half of your daily allowance!) and 300mg of cholesterol!

One packet soup base typically contains 20,000 – 25,000mg of sodium, so if you use 2-4 packets of soup in 1 meal with the processed ingredients and sauces; that one meal can easily exceed your sodium allowance by 3-5 times! 

2. High in Saturated/Total Fats:
Soup bases that are rich in flavour (e.g. Chongqing mala, Thai tom yum, Sichuan hot and spicy, Tonkotsu, Collagen, Laksa, Curry) or made from pork belly or beef tallow are high in both saturated and total fats. 

1 packet of Mala soup base can contain upwards of 600 calories, 50g total fat, 15g saturated fat and 25g carbohydrates. Some of the spicier soups also contain chilli paste (that have been fried with oil), or coconut milk that adds on to the fat profile. 

Even ingredients like ring roll, fried beancurd skin, marinated pork, pork belly, beef, lamb, chicken thigh, and organ meats (e.g. tripe, liver, kidney, gizzards) adds on to the total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content.

3. (Beware of) High in Sugar:

Some soup bases or sauces have added sugar in to balance the taste profiles, resulting in a more flavourful and balanced soup or sauce.

 1 steamboat meal can easily reach up to 1,000 calories and up to 3x of your sodium allowance (6,000mg sodium) from all the processed and fresh foods, and soup bases.

Follow the health tips below to keep your calories, saturated fat, and sodium levels down while having your reunion meal! 

Health Tip:

#1 Clear Soup (lightly flavoured) Base

Go for a low-salt, or no MSG added, vegetable or chicken stock (examples of such brands include Knorr, Heinz, Kallo, Pacific) to make your soup base. Other light-flavoured soups include mushroom, cabbage tofu, and tomato. 

 

If you are having more than 1 soup base, choose just 1 spicy or thick soup base (e.g. collagen or tonkotsu), and keep the others as clear soup. Over time, as more and more ingredients get added to the clear soup pot(s), it will be more flavourful and concentrated too. 

 

Keep to just 3 small bowls of soup in one sitting.

 

#2 Fresh Over Processed 

Fresh ingredients naturally contain less sodium than processed and going for leaner cuts of meat also will help to cut down on the saturated fat, total fat, and sodium in the meal. Vegetables (leafy and non-leafy) also contain fibre that will help in satiety and fullness without overeating on the meats, processed ingredients and soup.

 

Go for 1-2 bowls of cooked vegetables, and just 1 bowl of fish / seafood / lean meat (in total). Keep your processed foods to just 5 pieces as they also contain nitrites and sodium.

 

#3 Light Dipping Sauces

Incorporating fresh cut chillies, freshly minced garlic, ginger, parsley, coriander, spring onion with low-sodium soy sauce or vinegar sauce will be better choices over sambal, chilli oil, deep-fried garlic, and oil-based sauces

3. Pen Cai (盆菜)

Pen cai is a decadent dish loved by many, as it is filled with an assortment of premium food ingredients such as roast meat, abalone, sea cucumber, prawns, scallops, dried oysters, fish maw, black fungus, black sea moss, soy protein (tau kwa, beancurd puffs), pig skin, and vegetables. 

Pen cai symbolizes unity, equality, harmony, and prosperity.

Nutritional Facts:

1. High in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol:
The roasted meats (especially belly cuts), pig skin, fried beancurd puffs, and seafood contain saturated fat and cholesterol. While cooking all the ingredients together in one dish, the fats and oils from all these foods will be in the gravy, which could then be absorbed easily by the vegetables and fried beancurd puffs. 

Saturated fats add to the level of bad cholesterol in your body and increase the risk of heart diseases. Those with (borderline) high cholesterol should eat less of the abovementioned foods, and go more for the vegetables, black fungus or sea moss for its higher fibre content.

2. High in Minerals:
Seafood contains protein, and a variety of beneficial minerals such as zinc, iron, copper and manganese. For example, zinc helps to boost metabolic activity and improve immune functions.

 Though seafood contains high cholesterol, and should be moderately consumed by individuals with (borderline) high cholesterol; it is a good protein source for healthy individuals. 

 

 

Health Tip:

#1 Line the first layer on the bottom with a thick spread of vegetables such as cabbage and radish. On the topmost layer, add broccoli and carrots, which adds some colour to your meal. 

#2 Use a low-salt, or no MSG added, vegetable or chicken stock, as the ingredients when cooked in the broth will add a variety of flavours to the dish. 

#3 Use leaner cuts of meat instead of pork belly, and when eating, remove the fat and skin from the meat. 

#4 Substitute pork with chicken for a lower-fat alternative.

#5 Consume just 1 small bowl of roast meats and seafood combined, and 2-3 small bowls of vegetables. Keep the gravy to a minimal as it may contain hidden fats. 

Feasting this Chinese New Year can be made healthier with the above mentioned health tips! You may also serve your family and guests with sugar-free beverages and end your reunion meals with a fresh fruit platter for dessert. Do remember that It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full, so slow down, and take time to engage in deep meaningful conversations with your loved ones. 

Happy Chinese New Year! 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Senior Clinical Dietitian

View more posts by Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

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