It’s almost Lunar New Year, combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people are more likely going to eat unhealthily, indulging in various festive foods. However, traditional Chinese New Year dishes tend to be high in sugar, fat, and sodium content, thus contributing to “three highs” diseases. The “three highs” stands for high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which in Hong Kong affects over half of the population at age 15 to 84. So, before the holidays, let us at The Central Clinic share 6 tips for healthy and happy eating festive habits!
“Lo Bak Gou” (turnip cakes), “Nin Gou” (new year cakes), taro cakes, and water chestnut cake are four main cake treats for the new year. They are mostly high in fat, sodium or sugar content, therefore affecting cardiovascular health under high intake.
For example, a standard sized “Nin Gou” available on the market, one cake (about 600 grams) contains 1,590 calories, and is rich in fats and carbohydrates. Mere two slices of the coconut Nin Gou contain over 6 teaspoons of sugar, exceeding suggested daily intake by the Centre for Food Safety. If the cake slices were fried in 2 teaspoons of oil with an egg batter, the calories are even higher than a Big Mac burger! In general, avoid foods that are high in fats and carbohydrates for the sake of your cardiovascular health.
For adults, the average suggested daily intake is about 2,000 calories and not exceed 50 grams of sugar. 2 slices of “Nin Gou” already contain over half of the recommended amount of sugar in a day. In addition, “Nin Gou” made with coconut milk contains even more fat. When choosing your cakes, remember to read the nutritional facts, so as to select ones with lower fat and sugar content.
According to data from the Centre for Food Safety, these are the daily intake limits per person:
Total Fat: 60 grams (4 tablespoons of oil)
Sugar: 50 grams (10 cubes of sugar)
Sodium: 2 grams (1 level teaspoon of salt)
Cured sausages and cured pork belly are common ingredients to “Lo Bak Gou” and taro cakes. According to a report from the Consumer Council on common brands of “Lo Bak Gou” or taro cakes, 2 slices of such cakes (about 100g) contain about 5.2g of fat, equivalent to 1-2 teaspoon of oil in terms of fat content. At the same time, these foods are also high in sodium, at about 373g per 2 slices. One may think they could be a simple snack, but this amount would already reach half the suggested sodium daily intake at the World Health Organization.
Not only do the cured meats in traditional cakes tend to be high in fat and sodium, people also enjoy adding sugary condiments, thus making it easy to exceed the daily quota. It’s best to remember that moderation is key, and best to resist the temptation and stop at 2 pieces. This applies especially to those who are obese and suffering from high blood pressure.
Of course, we can still enjoy these festive foods while staying healthy. One way is to make these at home, so as to have better control on the ingredients. We also suggest choosing alternative ingredients such as dried shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, or dried conpoy, or picking out the cured meats to reduce the fat and sodium intake.
Use healthier ways to heat up new year cakes, such as using non-stick pans, steaming or using the microwave oven. All of these methods minimize the use of oil, thus reducing the oil intake. Also, since 2 slices of “Nin Gou” already contain the equivalent amount of calories as a whole bowl of rice, it’s best to avoid adding an egg batter that would increase the calories in the dish. Avoid adding condiments as well when enjoying the foods.
“Poon Choi”, or “big bowl feast”, is a traditional Cantonese festival meal that is served as a large communal meal with many layers of different ingredients. Most “Poon Choi” contain ingredients like pork belly and roast duck that are high fat and sodium, while other ingredients have been fried (such as taro and bean curd). Therefore, people suffering from “three highs” should only eat these feasts in small amounts.
Another factor can also affect cardiovascular health – the sauces may contain high sodium (such as abalone sauce and oyster sauce), and ingredients in the bottom layer (such as lotus root and turnips) may soak up more of the sauce.
Here is a helpful breakdown of common “Poon Choi” ingredients for patients who have high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or are obese.
Vegetables: Shiitake mushrooms, turnip, lotus root, chestnuts, fresh vegetables
Protein: Shrimp, sea cucumber, dried conpoy, dried oysters, skinless steamed chicken
Vegetables: Fried taro, bean curd sheets
Protein: Pork belly, pork skin, pork knuckles, roast duck, duck’s feet, roast goose, abalone, fried fish balls
The Central Clinic doctors also suggest “three highs” patients, when they wish to reheat their “Poon Choi” dishes, they should pour out half of the sauce, and dilute using water. Another suggestion is to order smaller “Poon Choi”, combining with carbohydrates (such as plain rice) and adding fresh vegetables. This helps to increase the full sensation in order to control the total intake amount. Also, avoid adding the sauce to rice to lower sodium intake.
It’s tradition to offer sweets from a candy box, and TCC suggests making your own healthy version, bringing your family a healthy new year.
The watermelon seeds commonly found are mostly processed with sauces that raise the sodium levels in these seemingly natural snacks. We suggest selecting baked seeds such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds without additional flavouring.
Also, replace deep fried ingredients such as sesame balls with baked nuts and unseasoned seaweed. Seeds and nuts are good sources of protein, healthy fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals, but they should still be eaten with moderation, up to one palmful.
Candies may seem necessary in a candy box, but we recommend replacing them with konnyaku jellies with original flavour, or natural and unseasoned dried fruits, which are higher in fibre. Patients with diabetes should pay attention to their overall intake. A simple hack is to select smaller, individually portioned foods to help keep the temptation to overeat at bay.
While we all love to enjoy the festive holidays, it’s important to keep a balanced diet. After indulging in large feasts with lots of meat, we should also eat more vegetables and fruits, and avoid eating foods that are high in calories, sugar, sodium, or fats. Remember that moderation is key – while we feast away with our loved ones, we should also balance with a balanced diet, adequate exercise.
Here at The Central Clinic, we wish you all a Happy, Healthy Year of the Ox!
中環專科建議為家中添置一個自制健康全盒，寓意全家人來年身體「健健康康」。市面上紅瓜子和黑瓜子大多以醬油醃製加工而成，含鈉量較高，健康全盒食材方面可選擇原味烘焙瓜子如南瓜子或葵花子。 并選擇原味烘焙堅果及無添加紫菜代替煎堆、酥角等油器食。種子及堅果類食物含高蛋白質、健康脂肪、纖維、維生素和礦物質。 每日種子及堅果類的建議量以一個掌心份量為上限，不宜進食過多。