How to make Chinese New Year healthy

Melissa Shedden
February 3, 2017

Red envelopes, dancing lions and eating and drinking superhuman amounts. This is Chinese New Year - a two-week celebration steeped in tradition, superstition and like most holidays, centering around food.

From dumplings, to tangerines, noodles to raw fish salad we asked the experts for help navigating the way through a healthy Chinese New Year menu. Bié kèqì (that's 'you're welcome' in Mandarin).




What: A traditional Northern Chinese half-moon shaped, soft, stuffed morsel of deliciousness, usually filled with minced meat and veg.

Go for this: It's a no-brainer but choose steamed and boiled over fried. You could even go meat free - think mushroom, spinach and bamboo and watch your portions, recommends Simone Austin, accredited practicing dietitian at Swisse Wellness. "Dumplings are a reasonably healthy option - it's the quantity you're eating that you really need to watch because it's easy to eat too many." Guilty.

Did you know? It's actually tradition on the 13th day of Chinese New Year to eat a vegetarian diet as a way to cleanse the body. Make mine mushroom please.




What: A staple in any CNY dinner celebration thanks to its pronunciation sounding similar to "surplus" or "abundance". Yes, please! Fish dishes will either come cooked whole or as Yusheng, a raw fish salad starter made up of heart-healthy salmon and lots of fresh shredded veggies.

Go for this: Help yourself to the Omega-3 hit, says Dr Suzanne Pearson, Global Scientific & Medical Affairs Manager at Swisse Wellness. "Omega-3s are a nutrition all-star playing a role in muscle activity, blood clotting, fertility and growth. Oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel and swordfish are particularly super sources containing more than 2000mg of omega-3s per 150g serve."

Did you know? Replacing the deep-fried prawn crackers for rice crackers and the sugar-loaded plum sauce for a DIY dragon fruit and passionfruit sauce (dice 350g of dragon fruit and blend with 150g of passion fruit until smooth) will save kilojoules without losing out on satisfaction.




What: Want a long life? Eat more longevity noodles (made from egg, flour and water) - at least, that's the thinking during Chinese New Year.

Go for this: Austin recommends getting the right macronutrient balance by using the portion plate model of thirds. How it works? "A third of your plate is protein, a third carbohydrates and a third vegetables," she explains. So less noodles, more mushrooms, snow peas and cabbage and add chicken.

Did you know? The Chinese believe it's good fortune if you can eat the noodles without biting or breaking them.




What: Often given as a gift of abundance, these vitamin A and C packed citrus fruits sounds similar to the word "luck" in Chinese.

Go for this: Eat one on its own or add to salad. Vitamin C can help iron be more readily absorbed especially from plant-based sources of iron. So, if you're eating spinach, pair it with a squeeze of citrus juice.

Did you know? A fruit bowl on your kitchen bench can help your waistline, says Pearson. "In a study published in the journal Health Education & Behavior, researchers set out to analyse how, rather than what, we eat, with some intriguing results. The results offered interesting insight into how the visibility, proximity and accessibility of foods affect decisions differently for men and women. The takeaway? Move your fruit bowl to prime location [over discretionary foods], then get filling it," she advises.




What: A symbol of prosperity, this high-fibre member of the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and co) is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin B6.

Go for this: Load on up on it or other greens, says Austin, advising a third to half of your plate to be vegetables. "Have with a side salad, steamed broccoli or bok choy, or in a bowl of Asian soup with greens."

Did you know? Avoid buying cabbage that is either halved or shredded as precut cabbage loses its valuable vitamin C content.


Sticky rice cake

What: Eaten steamed, fried or even eaten cold, this crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside glutinous rice flour, red bean paste, vegetable oil and sesame seed dessert is a festival favourite.

Go for this: While it's not exactly healthy, if you L.O.V.E this dessert, Austin gives the nod of approval to indulge. "Eat some favourite festive treats. The key is to enjoy and eat well most of the time," she says.

Did you know? The so-called glutinous flour (because of the sticky texture) is actually gluten free. Good news for celiacs.