Chinese New Year is this week. It marks the Year of the Pig. Chinese food can make you look porky if you make the wrong choices. If you’re intending to chow your way through 1000 kilos or won ton of Chinese food take a wok at my healthier alternatives.
Chinese restaurant dishes in Australia typically have two or three veggies in them but don’t be afraid to ask for more or have them as an extra side. Good choices are chilli prawns or chicken and cashews. Steamed fish or squid will give you an omega-3 boost and meals with garlic or nuts provide extra nutritional value. Pao chicken is a healthy choice as is beef in black bean sauce or seafood with Szechuan sauce.
Avoid fried dishes such as sweet and sour pork and spring rolls. Nutritious starters would be seafood dumplings, sang choi bau or soup. Sweet meals such as honey chicken are packed with extra sugar and calories. Fried rice is loaded with fat, calories and additional sodium due to the sauce in it. Choose a small side of steamed rice, brown rice or noodles. Share your meals and remember you don’t have to eat everything in your bowl.
Food that is cooked at home is always healthier. You can control the portion size and how you cook your meal. If you do have the opportunity to cook at home, you can make a few adjustments to your dish without sacrificing taste. Add plenty of different coloured veggies such as green beans, broccoli, onion, capsicum and mushrooms. Go light on the sauce or choose low-sodium varieties and cook lightly and quickly to retain nutrients
Festive treats for Chinese New Year can be pretty calorific. Pineapple tarts are laden with sugar with each one containing a whopping fourteen teaspoons. A handful of prawn crackers is worth 100 calories and high in fat as are dried shrimp rolls. Kueh lapis is full of butter and sugar with two slices containing a huge 475 calories. These snacks are delicious so don’t deprive yourself just eat in moderation.
Be wary of portion sizes when you get take away. Plastic containers can be deceptive and contain larger serves than you think. Watch food courts where food may have lost much of its nutritional value and may even be a food poisoning risk. It’s worth peking in the kitchen to see how they’re preparing the food. Get your meal cooked fresh and don’t add soy sauce as one tablespoon contains 375mg of sodium which is too shanghai.
Order well and your Chinese dishes will contain a diverse array of nutrients. If you’re lucky enough to be able to eat more authentic food then you can try nutritional delicacies such as jellyfish, century eggs, sea cucumbers, mapo tofu or a scrumptious hot pot. They’re all tso delicious. It can be worth splurging or sourcing a true Chinese menu rather than a Westernised one.
Meat is used less frequently in China and instead vegetables, noodles, rice or a protein like tofu are eaten. Meals are boiled, braised, stewed or steamed and rarely deep fried. Less sauce is used and flavour is added with spices instead of salt. Vegetables like carrots, onions, tomatoes and broccoli aren’t native to China. If you’re able find a place that serves real Chinese food then you’re as lucky as a fortune cookie.
Chinese New Year is such a wonderful celebration so don’t be afraid to indulge and experiment with new dishes. As a dietitian I would never want to be labelled Me No Fun. Happy New Year everyone!