Diet key to healthy Chinese New Year

Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr

By Zhanglin Kong, dietitian at Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center

Chinese New Year is the greatest annual celebration when families and friends gather to enjoy delicious food and drinks. However, most Chinese traditional dishes contain high fat, salt and sugar. If you don’t pay attention to your diet, the continuous celebration and heavy meals could affect your health. Let’s take a look at the following traditional cuisine for Chinese New Year and their proper serving sizes.


Pork sausage

Pork Sausage is made of pork, including salt, sugar, soy sauce and other preservatives, stuffed into a casing. Since the lean pork sausage does have much taste and salt helps preserve the meat, pork sausage usually contains high fat and salt. About 100 grams of pork sausage contains 584 kilocalories and 1420 milligrams of sodium, or about the same amount as the recommended daily intake of sodium. Therefore, pork sausage is better served as a side dish. Cook the sliced or diced pork sausage with vegetables, or add it into fried rice. The suggested serving size is 15 grams or about 0.5 ounce.


Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr

New Year cake ‘nian gao’

The Chinese name for New Year cake “nian gao” has the same sound for “better year.” Different regions have their own way to prepare nian gao. For example, Cantonese nian gao is fried with lard or peanut oil, which contains more calories than the steamed nian gao in Jiangnan does. The mild steamed nian gao is made of polished glutinous rice, and a 100 grams of nian gao contains 156 kilocalories and 35 grams of carbohydrates. The suggested serving size as dessert is 60 grams or about 2 ounces.


Turnip cake

Turnip cake is made of steamed mixture of shredded turnip, sticky rice flour, dried shrimp, pork sausage and salted pork. The fried turnip cake is crispy and delicious, which makes it a popular appetizer. However, fried turnip cake is oily and contains 50 percent more calories than the steamed turnip cake — 100 grams of fried turnip cake contain 130 kilocalories and 540 milligrams of salt, while steamed turnip cake has 87 kilocalories and 430 milligrams of salt. Because of such high salt content, the suggested serving size for either fried or steamed turnip cake is 50 grams or about 2 ounces.



Since most candy have high sugar content, diabetics must strictly control their consumption of candy. The calories and sugar contents of several common candies are: 24 kilocalories and 6 grams of carbohydrates per piece of hard candy; 155 kilocalories and 17 grams of carbohydrates per ounce of chocolate; 91 kilocalories and 24 grams of carbohydrates per ounce of dried plums. Please keep in mind that carbohydrates should not be more than 30 grams per serving. For example, you can eat 1 ounce of dried plums and a piece of candy, or eat four to five candies instead.


Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds have high fat content. The salted nuts and seeds also have high amounts of sodium. In general, the proper serving size for large nuts, almonds and cashews is 10 to 15 nuts. Pistachios are popular during the holiday season. Since the size of a pistachio is relatively small, the suggested serving size is 25 nuts, which contain 100 kilocalories and 8 grams of fat. Because nuts contain rich omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, daily intake of a proper amount of nuts is good for your health.

The data above is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture database and the Food Nutrient Calculator published by Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety. Please refer to the food’s packaging for specific nutrients and serving sizes.

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