As the Lunar New Year approaches, it will soon be time to celebrate with family, friends, and of course, food. However, many festive treats and dishes can be high in calories but low in the nutrients our bodies need.
One way to resist unhealthy sweets and foods this Chinese New Year is to incorporate more protein into meals, while cutting back on refined carbs and fat. You’ll feel more full, so you’re likely to eat less and cut down on unhealthy snacking.
The Role of Protein
Protein is important because it helps you build and maintain lean muscle mass. It is vital to a healthy diet, as it’s one of the essential building blocks for many cellular components in your body. Protein also helps to make meals more satisfying. Including some protein at every meal and snack helps satisfy hunger over the course of the day and can help ensure that individual protein needs – which vary depending on body size and composition, age, and activity level – are met.
Protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, and seeds also supply vitamin B, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. So when you’re adding protein while cutting back on empty calories, you’re getting the benefit of extra nutrients your body needs.
How to Resist Overeating During Festivities
Here are some ways to swap in protein as you navigate all the Chinese New Year temptations:
- Have a Healthy, Protein-Rich Breakfast
Start the day with a high-protein breakfast – about 25 grams should do it. Instead of typical options like cereal or bread, try a meal replacement shake or oatmeal with protein powder blended in. Studies suggest that a protein-rich breakfast not only helps keep you full until lunch but may even help curb your intake over the course of the day*.
- Incorporate Nutritious Snacking
Try not to head to festive events with an empty stomach. Have a substantial snack prior, such as some plain Greek yogurt with fruit, or a protein snack bar before you leave. You can also bring some portable snacks with you, such as sunflower seeds or a protein bar, just in case.
- Be Selective About Festive Meals
At reunion dinners and open houses, there are some ways to stay on the healthy side. Look for lean sources of protein such as grilled fish, poultry, lean meats, or vegetarian sources such as tofu, and go easy on high-calorie sauces and gravies.
You may also want to cut down on starchy white rice, steamed buns and dumplings. Instead, put more vegetables on your plate, and look for protein-rich beans and grains such as brown rice or whole-grain noodles. And watch your ‘liquid calories’ as sugary and carbonated beverages during festive gatherings can rack up a lot of calories. A cup of unsweetened Chinese tea or a glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime feels festive but is calorie-free and can help you stay hydrated.
You don’t have to completely avoid your favourite Chinese New Year dishes and delicacies. One trick is to skip the ordinary treats you can eat year-round like peanut cookies, and instead, enjoy small portions of the special treats you associate with Chinese New Year, like pineapple tarts and nian gao.
And don’t forget to keep up (or begin!) your exercise routine – you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll look great in your cheongsam or qipao to usher in the Year of the Tiger at your best!