Chinese New Year Snacks and its Nutritional Facts
Pineapple cookies, nian gao, and kuih kapit are staples during Chinese New Year but do you know the nutritional content? Let’s uncover Malaysian’s favourite CNY snacks with us.
Article contribution by Homage
Chinese New Year is just around the corner! Between the thought of the festivities and families coming together again in joyous celebration, everyone is equally excited to be able to enjoy themselves with the plethora of good food that will be served at the dinner table and in the living room after a hearty meal.
CNY snacks are just as much a staple of the festive season, as are the main courses, but while we very much enjoy the taste of these delightful treats, do we really know what goes into them? Or how many calories a single piece has? Let this article enlighten you about the nutritional facts of some of our favourite snacks of the season and introduce a variety of healthy choices that are just as good for you as they are for your taste buds.
Popular Snacks and Their Nutritional Facts
While it’s hard to deny the deliciousness of CNY snacks, seeing these figures for some of your favourites might leave you feeling a little shaken up. We have three words of advice for you if you’d like to be more health-conscious: moderation is key!
As a point of reference, calories are a measure of energy; it’s normally used to the energy the body gains from consuming food and beverages, or the “amount of energy you burn exercising.” It also takes “7,000 excess calories accumulated over time” for someone to gain one kilogram in weight.
Bak kwa refers to “dried meat” in Hokkien, a popular street staple you’ll commonly see in night markets or various dried meat sellers. Cut into thin, square slices and well known for its savoury taste, bak kwa is well-loved by all segments of Malaysian Chinese society even after CNY comes to an end.
The one issue is that bak kwa has a very high-calorie count, and in some instances, it’s the highest of all the CNY snacks on this list. A single slice can contribute anywhere between 301 to 370 calories, which is more than a single bowl of rice (242 calories). Moreover, that one slice also contributes 4.1g of saturated fat, 32g of sugar, and 732mg of sodium - that’s more than one-third of the recommended daily intake!
In order to burn off the calories from that one slice, you’ll need to take a 30-minute jog or help around the house with some heavy chores, such as moving boxes around, for 45 to 50 minutes or so. Because no two bak kwa is the same in terms of nutritional value (owing to different styles of preparation), you might need to adjust the time needed for either of these activities. While you can still have bak kwa once in a while, it is best to keep portions very small: consider cutting a single slice into smaller strips and sharing it with others. Be sure not to have more than a single slice in a day to keep your dietary intake in check.
These small, sweet treats are made from tapioca flour, coconut milk and eggs. Though they are crumbly in texture, pop one in your mouth and they will melt with their rich, sweet flavour. Because of their size, they make an excellent low-calorie alternative for snacking. A single piece only contains 15 calories; it also has 0.3g of saturated fat, 0.9g of sugar and 2.6mg of sodium. In contrast to many of the other snacks on this list, they’re possibly the healthiest option of them all.
The easiest way to burn off the calories from one piece is to walk around the house for five to ten minutes. You can even carry your relative’s baby while you do so. Despite their smaller calorie content, do be mindful that eating more will add up over time; adjust your walking schedule as required.
Kuih bahulu is a Malaysian-made madeleine cakes with a slightly crusty exterior and soft interior. Because these snacks are rather dry in texture, it is usually dipped in coffee to soften it and add an extra flavour to them. They are also relatively small in size, though not as small as a piece of kuih bangkit.
Much like kuih bangkit, they are also relatively easy on your health: one piece contains between 34 to 68 calories; each serving also contains 0.4g of saturated fat, 4.8g of sugar and 13mg of sodium. Burning the calories from a single piece will require a 30-minute run or a vigorous dance lasting 20 minutes or so. It’s also possible to burn it off by chewing on sugar-free gum for about 45 minutes.
Sometimes known as “love letters” or “kuih Belanda,” these crêpe-like snacks are made using a special waffle iron held over a charcoal fire. They are usually made from rice flour, coconut milk, eggs, and caramelised sugar.
Historically, the recipe for these snacks originated from Dutch merchants (hence “kuih Belanda”) who brought biscuits similar to the kuih kapit; it eventually passed on to many parts of society. The other name comes from a custom practised by lovers, where they wrote messages to one another into these snacks. Eating them symbolizes that the other’s words were literally taken to heart.
Small though they may be, each piece contains about 56 calories (approximately 0.3g of total fat, 2mg sodium and 1.7g of sugar), requiring 15 to 20 minutes of walking. It is also possible to burn them off by taking 20 minutes of your time to write an e-mail.
Occasionally referred to as kuih ros, due to their rose-like shape, these delectable, crunchy snacks come in a variety of flavours. Each piece is small but contain 50 calories, which will require seven to ten minutes of helping around the house to burn off.
These small snacks are filled with sweet pineapple jam, while the pastry surrounding it has a soft, crumbly texture that melts in your mouth and leaves a sweet, buttery taste. This filling is usually high in sugar, while the pastry itself - made from butter, egg yolk and corn starch - is high in fat.
One small tart contains between 82 to 93 calories, additionally containing 2.3g of saturated fat, 6.2g of sugar and 58mg of sodium per piece. It’s very easy to put on some extra pounds (and increase your blood sugar levels) while munching away on these snacks.
Sticky Rice Cake (Nian Gao)
This is a traditional Chinese sticky cake made from glutinous rice flour, sugar and oil. It is usually eaten steamed or fried, though many people prefer the latter. The name is directly translated to “tall year;” eating it supposedly helps you grow taller!
While having it fried is indeed delicious, one fried fritter adds at least 200 calories (similar to a bowl of rice); contrast this to a steamed piece’s estimated 46-calorie count. Moreover, that’s 12.6 g fat and 16.5 g sugar in each piece! You’ll need to undergo 30 to 40 minutes of intense physical activity, or two and a half hours of gardening, in order to burn off these calories.
These crispy chips are also known as arrowhead chips, as they are made from the arrowhead, a tuberous vegetable originating from China. Deep fried to a crisp in hot oil, these chips are the perfect snack for chatting around the living room or when watching Chinese drama films on television.
A single bowl of ngaku chips contains 140 calories, which you can burn with some moderate exercise or dancing for 30 minutes or so.
No CNY celebration is complete without sweet and/or carbonated drinks. You have no doubt seen families cart away large quantities of these drinks just before the season rolls in. It has pretty much become a staple for people to wash down their meals with a refreshing hit of chrysanthemum tea, lychee, or even winter melon. For some others, they might prefer Pepsi or Coca-Cola instead.
It shouldn’t be surprising that these are also not good for your health if taken in large amounts. A single can of Coca-Cola, for example, has 192 calories, with 57.6mg of sodium and 52g of sugar per can. While it is a refreshing beverage, especially with how hot it can be during CNY, the long-term health impacts cannot be understated.
At least 30 minutes of physical activity, be it washing the car or cleaning the house, should be enough to burn the calories away, but we would still recommend lowering your daily intake of these sweet drinks.
Healthy, Guilt-Free Snacks for Everyone
Need some healthy snack ideas? You do not have to look very far for some seasonal suggestions.
Yee Sang (Yu Sheng)
Yet another CNY staple, this dish is made from pickled vegetable slices, raw fish, a variety of spices, plum sauce, crispy crackers and oil. All these ingredients are excitedly mixed together by family members and close friends tossing the ingredients high in the air while loudly cheering “Loh Hey” (toss high) to usher in good luck for the year. It’s perfectly common for people to enjoy yee sang as many times as possible during the festive season.
While a standard yee sang plate can have up to 560 calories in a single 385g portion, there’s much you can do to make it a healthier option. You can reduce the amount of oils and plum sauce applied to the dish, or replace them with alternatives that are low in sugar, saturated fats and/or preservatives. The crunchy crackers can be replaced with unsalted nuts and you can even throw in some fruits for a little extra zest.
Peanuts and Sunflower Seeds
Peanuts are yet another snacks many people will have while watching a movie at home or even around the mahjong table. Peanuts are a good snack to have since they are rich in protein, vitamins and monounsaturated fat that’s good for the heart. The downside is that they are packed with calories and that can easily build up the more you have, adding extra pounds to your weight. A 20g portion can contain as much as 113 calories, 10 g of fat, and 0.8 g of sugar.
It is ideal to have peanuts in smaller servings per day to counteract their high amounts of calories and fats. Alternatively, buy pre-packed peanut packs and do it yourself: lightly toast them in the oven at low heat and avoid salting them. You can still get a delectable crunch from preparing them at home.
You can also do the same with sunflower seeds. They are also beneficial as they provide a good source of vitamins and minerals, helping to reduce inflammation, promote heart health and even boost your energy. Much like peanuts, make sure to have them in small servings as they also have a high-calorie count; a one-quarter bowl has up to 207 calories.
It should not be surprising that mandarin oranges make for a healthy snack for CNY. The Hokkien term for these oranges is kam, which happens to be the same word for gold. As such, having these around the house symbolizes riches in your life. It also helps that their bright orange colour makes them look a lot like actual gold!
Mandarin oranges are similar to many other citrus fruits like oranges. They are rich in vitamins A and C, and also contain 3.5g of fibre. They are also rich in antioxidants that help prevent oxidation in the body, which could lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease. While they are usually eaten on their own, you can always try sprucing things up by adding mandarin orange slices to yoghurts and salads.
Like other citrus fruits, mandarin oranges are very juicy when you sink your teeth into them. You could consider making healthy, sugar-free fruit juice out of it!
Other Fruits and Raisins
Mandarin oranges are not the only fruits you can have. Mangoes, apples, pears, grapes, pineapples - many fruits are naturally sweet and contain a plethora of vitamins that all add nutritional value to your overall health. Mangoes, for example, are free of any fat, sodium and cholesterol; a single three-quarter serving of mangoes also contributes 50 per cent of your daily vitamin C intake!
Having fruits on their own, or mixed with oatmeal, yoghurt or salads, are a great way to healthy snacking. Pickled fruits also have some nutritional value, though It’s best to consume less of them. Pickled fruits are a high source of sodium, which can lead to a higher risk of high blood pressure or gradual liver damage.
Raisins are also another great choice you can add to nearly anything. These dried grape morsels are considered a natural candy and are a great source of fibre, iron and antioxidants. As such, they help prevent constipation, reduce the risk of heart disease, and even protect your teeth. You can mix them in cereal, or oatmeal, or even use them to make crunchy raisin cookies. Just remember that one-half cup of raisins contains approximately 217 calories and 47g of sugar, so have them in moderation.
Fried dumplings are popular for their crispy outer layer and the hot, mouth-watering ingredients on the inside. These stuffed parcels are made from unleavened dough with savoury fillings placed inside, usually comprising minced ingredients such as meat (pork) or seafood (prawn is commonly used), egg, tofu, and vegetables. They are then deep-fried in oil to create a delicious treat that everyone can enjoy.
Of course, deep frying the dumplings does mean you’ll be having 420 calories and 22g of fat per serving, which is definitely not great. Consider steaming your dumplings instead; they may lack the crunch, but their soft and slightly fluffy taste is still enjoyable without diminishing the warmth and rich taste of the ingredients on the inside. Plus, steaming dumplings is a much healthier option; you can potentially reduce the calorie and fat count by up to three-quarters per serving!
Speaking of which, you can (and should) make your own at home and take a healthier spin on the CNY staples. Since you will be making it yourself, you can adjust the amount of ingredients needed and come up with something just as delicious but still packed with good nutrition.
Seniors and Snacking
Having said all this, it isn’t wrong to allow your older loved ones to also enjoy themselves with the food that is served at this auspicious time. However, be mindful of how much they can take in a day, or whether they should even consume these snacks in the first place. Diabetic loved ones, for example, should best avoid foods with a high carb content, since it can increase their blood sugar levels significantly.
Be sure to set some ground rules for what your loved ones can and can’t have, and make sure to monitor their eating habits. You can still allow them to have very small amounts of their favourite dishes and snacks, but again, moderation is key. One trick would be to have small servings of seasonal snacks, like nian gao, over those you might eat all year round. That way, your loved ones can still enjoy having some snacks without going overboard.
You can also substitute some snacks with healthier alternatives, such as the ones we mentioned in the prior section. It’s perfectly fine if you cannot come up with something that fits the festive occasion, so long as their health benefits are significant. Be creative with how you serve these to your loved ones; you’ll be able to find many other healthy suggestions online, so it wouldn’t hurt to experiment.
Make sure they understand the importance of looking after their health; it can be easy for them to feel resentful about having their diet restricted, so be sure to be open with them on the importance of improving (or maintaining) their current state of health. It is our hope that you and your family will be able to have a festive and healthy Chinese New Year this year!
Images: Homage Malaysia
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