What Is Lunar Year?
Lunar New Year is celebrated by many East Asian Countries (Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia, Tibet, and Singapore). It’s an important holiday in these counties and is tied to the lunar-solar calendar. Traditionally, it is a time to honor household ancestors and deities.
Because this holiday follows the Chinese lunar calendar, the date changes every year. Typically, this holiday is celebrated by gathering with family and enjoying some ‘lucky’ new year foods.
This is one of my favorite holidays to celebrate as it has been such an important part of my life since childhood, it also has a huge historical and cultural significance. Growing up, my eldest Uncle usually hosted Chinese New Year at his house. All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would get together and we would have a fun day of playing some games, honoring and paying respect to deities and our ancestors, enjoying traditional new year foods, and wishing our elders prosperity and wealth by saying “gōng xǐ fā cái” (恭喜發財) to the elders and getting red envelopes (“hong bao,” 紅包).
Although this holiday is traditionally spent with family, the pandemic has changed that a bit. While we won’t be gathering as a large family in person, we will still be celebrating and partaking in these Chinese traditions and using virtual modes of “gathering” to celebrate and honor our family and ancestors.
“Lucky” food is an important part of celebrating the Lunar New Year. The foods served on New Year’s Eve are believed to bring you and your family good luck in the new year. If health is on your mind this year, consider trying one of these simple swaps to make the dinner table a place for nourishment.
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1) Choose The Right Catch For Your Steamed Fish
Fish, 魚, pronounced yú, sounds like the word more or surplus in Chinese. The phrase we say is, “niánnián yǒuyú” (年年有餘), which basically means may you have an abundance or excess throughout the entire year.
Cod, carp, and catfish are all great options to consider when making a traditional steamed fish dish for a healthy Chinese New Year. They are easy to find in most stores and tend to be more affordable. Each offers a different set of nutritional benefits, but both are great low-fat sources of protein.
Cod is known for having a firmer texture and a mild “fishy” taste, which makes it great for soaking up flavors. If you have hypertension, you may find a bigger benefit from the higher omega-3 fat content in cod.
Carp is a river fish with white flesh that is tender and smooth in texture. This fish is mild in taste and is not at all ‘fishy.’ This fish is a bit bonier than most as it has a larger spine. You may not find this fish in American supermarkets but it can be found in Southeast Asian supermarkets.
Catfish is another healthy choice with a slightly lower protein content than cod and carp, something to consider for anyone in early-stage chronic kidney disease and who has protein restrictions. Farmed and wild catfish have different tastes and textures. Farmed catfish is milder and can be slightly sweet, when cooked the flesh is dense. Wild catfish can have more of a muddy and fishy taste.
|Cod||70||15 g||0.6 g||351 mg||46 mg|
|Catfish||81||14 g||2.4 g||304 mg||37 mg|
|Carp||108||15 g||4.8 g||283 mg||42 mg|
Remember to serve your fish whole and have some left over to bring your prosperity in the new year!
2) Switch To A Lower Sodium Soy Sauce Or Use Coconut Aminos
One tablespoon of traditional soy sauce packs 879mg of sodium- that’s nearly half of the recommended 2,300mg per day! Considering most recipes call for more than a single tablespoon, the sodium level can get really high, really fast.
By opting for a low-sodium option, you can cut your intake by more than half!
|Type (1 tablespoon)||Sodium|
|Regular Soy Sauce||920 mg|
|Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce*||590 mg|
|Kikkoman Milder Soy Sauce*||470 mg|
|Trader Joe’s Coconut Aminos*||300 mg|
|Coconut Secret Coconut Aminos*||180 mg|
3) Use A 75/25 Vegetable-to-Meat Ratio For Dumpling Filling
Dumplings are made to look like Chinese ingots (“yuan bao”, 元寶), which are boat-shaped currencies made of silver or gold. Dumplings signify wealth. The more dumplings you eat during New Year’s eve, the more money you will make in the New Year
Making dumplings at home is a tradition in my household. It’s a fun activity to do with family and compete with each other on who can fold the prettiest dumplings and also make the most. Making dumplings at home also means more customization – my favorite thing to do is to add more veggies!
Using a bigger portion of vegetables in your dumpling filling helps to add extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your meal. More fiber helps to keep you fuller longer, stabilizes blood sugar, and of course, promotes regularity!
Try adding any of these vegetables:
- Bok choy
- Green onion or Chinese chives
- Bean sprouts
For the protein portion, diced shrimp or crumbled tofu are both great low-fat and low-calorie options (compared to the more traditional ground pork) that could be beneficial if you are trying to manage your weight. Both are great ways to have a healthy and happy Lunar New Year!
4) Try Using Shirataki Noodles For Extra Fiber
If you have a noodle dish on the menu, consider trying shirataki noodles*. They can easily be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store near the tofu and come in a variety of styles.
Shirataki noodles* are made from Konnyaku flour derived from the Konjac plant. They are high in soluble fiber and are only 40 calories per serving! Soluble fiber can be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels and improving gut health.
They are quick to switch out in any recipe as no cooking time is required. Just open, rinse and cut to your desired length!
5) Choose Steamed Over Fried
By choosing to steam your dumplings or wontons, you are using water to cook your food, so no extra calories are added. You can find my favorite steamer basket here*.
If fried dumplings or wontons are non-negotiable, then consider taking a closer look at the type of oil you are using. Some have higher saturated fats than others, which can lead to higher cholesterol levels.
Oils lower in saturated fats are:
6) Include A Tangerine For Good Luck & Good Vitamin C
An already-standing tradition for a healthy Chinese New Year! If good luck and success weren’t already reason enough to have a tangerine during the new year, then add 84% of your daily vitamin C to the list.
Most people know vitamin C for its role in immune system support, but many don’t know that it’s also essential for collagen production! Collagen helps keep our skin, nails, and hair strong and healthy.
7) Swap Brown Rice For White Rice
White rice is the product of a rice seed after the husk, bran, and germ are removed. By doing this, however, there are some key nutrients lost. While vitamins and minerals are added back in during processing, fiber is not.
Brown rice contains both the germ and the bran, which is what provides the fiber. While not as easily interchangeable in certain recipes like sticky rice cakes, it works well when being served as a side or as part of a fried rice dish for a healthy, happy Lunar New Year.
8）Look For Low-Sodium Broth or Make Your Own
Store-bought cooking stock or broth can have a high amount of sodium added as a preservative. While convenient, a high sodium intake increases your risk for hypertension or can worsen it! If you have chronic kidney disease, sodium may be one of the labs that your renal dietitian will monitor.
Most brands carry a low-sodium version of their cooking stock or broth at the same price. This is an easy switch to make and will not impact flavor!
You can also try making your own broth at home ahead of time! There are tons of recipes to follow online designed for different flavor profiles. If you’re not picky, you can also save vegetable scraps over time in the freezer and simmer them for 1 hour in a pot of water.
Cheers to a Healthy & Happy Lunar New Year!
祝你新年快樂，生體健康！zhù nín xīn nián kuài lè, shēn tǐ jiàn kāng
What’s your favorite Lunar New Year dish to make? I know I’ll be celebrating with steamed fish and homemade dumplings! Let me know in the comments!