A healthier Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year was celebrated across the world this weekend. Also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, it is the most important of all traditional Chinese festivals. It is a time for families and friends to get together to wish each other happiness, good health, peace and prosperity. Of course much of the celebrating focuses of food and eating together and as many of us enjoy Chinese food here’s some tips on how to keep it healthy.

Each year is symbolised by an animal zodiac sign, in 12-year cycles and this year is the year of the rat. If you are born in a year of the rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 or 2008, 2020), you are considered industrious, thrifty, quick-witted, resourceful, and positive, but lacking in courage. Your lucky numbers are thought to be 2 and 3 and lucky colours are blue, green and gold.

Traditional Chinese food is diverse, with different traditions and cuisines from different regions. The New Year feast is a time to celebrate and the foods symbolise the bringing of good luck and fortune in the coming year. 

Healthier Choices

If you are eating out, here are a few ideas to help you make a healthier choice:

  • Avoid anything described as ‘crispy’ on the menu, as it will be deep-fried.
  • Skip the prawn crackers, spring rolls and prawn toast for starters and choose steamed dumplings or edamame beans instead.
  • Choose lean meat, fish or tofu. These are good sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and can form the basis of stirfries, soups and side dishes for your feast.
  • Stir-fries can be a good choice as they tend to be lower in fat and sugar and served with plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • Order less rice or noodles and add a side portion of steamed or stir-fried vegetables to share.
  • Choose steamed rice rather than egg fried rice.
  • Szechuan prawns or steamed seabass with ginger and spring onions with half a portion of boiled rice can make a healthy choice.
  • Ask for your meal cooked without monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is a flavour-enhancer often used in Chinese food.
  • Enjoy Chinese tea with your meal to reduce your alcohol intake.

Chinese Fakeaways

If you are celebrating at home with family and friends, there are plenty of ways to make your Chinese New Year feast a healthier meal:

  • You can reduce sugar and salt by replacing jars of sauces with homemade versions. Use reduced salt soy sauce, Chinese wine vinegar, fresh ginger, chilli and spring onions.
  • Make the swap to brown rice and wholegrain noodles to increase your fibre intake.
  • If dumplings are on the menu, then serve them steamed rather than fried.
  • Stir-fried vegetables, clear broths and steamed fish, flavoured with garlic, ginger, Chinese five spice, scallions and chilli are not only healthy, but taste delicious too.
  • Vegetables like Pak choi, green beans, broccoli and spinach are traditionally used in Chinese cooking and can be spiced up with ginger, garlic and sesame seeds.

Steamed green beans with sesame seeds

  • a pack of trimmed green beans
  • 1 dsp sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • A small chunk of fresh ginger, very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce or soy sauce
  • 1 tblsp sesame seeds

Method

  1. Steam the green beans for 3-5minutes until tender, and cooked to your liking.
  2. Gently toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan (without oil) for a couple of minutes until golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Heat the sesame oil in the same frying pan and gently cook the ginger and garlic for one minute until fragrant, taking care not to overcook.
  4.  Stir the beans into the garlic and ginger and sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 25th January 2020.