By John Leung, MD, and Louisa Poon, RD
Chinese New Year is an opportunity to gather family and friends, and to enjoy some culinary traditions. Food plays a major part in the celebration of Chinese New Year. We identified five traditional dishes that we consider the worst offenders based on their poor nutritional values:
- Vegetarian chicken
- Oil tofu
- Dongpo pork
- Pig knuckle
- Chinese pretzel
Many people would think vegetarian chicken is a healthier alternative because it is made with beans. In fact, vegetarian chicken has less protein but more salt than real chicken. Each 100 grams of vegetarian chicken contains only 16.5 grams of protein but 12.5 grams of fat and 373.8 milligrams of sodium. The same amount of chicken breast has 27.1 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat and 51 milligrams salt. A high salt diet is associated with high blood pressure.
Tofu is low in fat and high in protein. However, after it is deep-fried, 100 grams of oil tofu has 20.2 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat — five times more fat than steamed tofu. Fat from each small cube of oil tofu is equivalent to that of 1 teaspoon of oil. Higher fat content contributes to more calories. Each 100 grams of oil tofu has 271 calories, compared to only 76 calories for just tofu itself. A high-fat diet has a proven association with heart disease. Excessive calorie intake leads to weight gain and obesity.
Dongpo pork is made with pork belly, consisting of half fat and half lean meat. It is a high-fat food. Each 100 grams of pork belly has 35.3 grams of fat, which is equivalent to seven teaspoons of oil, and 349 calories.
Similar to Dongpo pork, pig knuckle is mainly pig skin (fat) and tendon. Each 100 grams of pig knuckle contains 17 grams of fat and 363.2 grams of sodium.
Chinese pretzels for New Year are hardened fried dough loaded with salt and sugar. In other words, they are a high-fat, high-sodium and high-sugar snack that should be avoided.
John Leung is triple-board certified in internal medicine, allergy/immunology and gastroenterology. He is the Director of the Food Allergy Center at Tufts Medical Center. Louisa Poon is a registered dietitian specialized in food allergy, food intolerance and renal nutrition. She is a dietitian at DCI Boston.
This post is also available in: Chinese