To most of us, Chinese New Year is all about catching up with loved ones over yummy food. From bountiful reunion dinners to an abundance of addictive CNY goodies, it’s a tough time to be watching your diet. But when you’re dining for two, it’s best to apply a little more caution to your festive feasting. Here are some CNY goodies pregnant women should avoid completely or at least limit the consumption of. Thankfully, preggo-friendly alternatives to get you through this season of endless temptations do exist!
1. Lohei Yusheng (Raw Fish Salad)
De rigueur to kick off every CNY feast nowadays is the auspicious raw fish salad or yusheng. We toss slices of raw fish together with thinly shredded vegetables and condiments to usher in a prosperous New Year.
Unfortunately, the nasty listeria bacteria can lurk in raw seafood — smoked fish included — and veggies. Healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection, but the disease can be fatal to unborn babies and newborns.
So how? To avoid being a wet blanket, toss away with the family, but abstain from consuming the yusheng afterwards. Or at the very least, use cooked seafood instead of raw or smoked fish. Abalone and lobster are popular alternatives, and many restaurants also offer vegetarian options these days.
2. Steamboat / Hotpot
Steamboat has become a CNY reunion dinner tradition for many families. Unsurprisingly, since it requires less slaving in the kitchen, which translates to more time with loved ones. Dining out at hotpot restaurants means not even having to wash up afterwards!
Unfortunately, meat, seafood, egg, and veggies which aren’t cooked thoroughly can still carry risk of listeria bacteria poisoning.
So how? Make sure the steamboat is boiling away and cook your food all the way through. Use separate sets of tongs and cutlery to handle raw and cooked food to prevent cross-contamination. Also, double-check if any dipping sauces contain raw egg and avoid those.
3. Bak Kwa (Barbecued Meat)
Every CNY sees a battle of the bak kwa brands. Queues rival those for Hello Kitty dolls despite prices skyrocketing during the season. Still, those savoury slices of barbecued meat (usually pork) are hard to resist, and super addictive to boot.
Unfortunately, bak kwa is also high in sodium, sugar, and fat. What makes them so tasty are precisely things everyone — especially pregnant mums — should cut back on. A slice of bak kwa contains about 300 kcal, and two slices contain half the recommended daily allowance of salt. Too much sodium can lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
So how? Cut each slice into quarters before serving. Have just a quarter to half slice at most daily to satisfy your bak kwa craving.
4. Pineapple Tarts
Pineapple tarts are about everyone’s favourite pick of the CNY goodies. Buttery pastry encasing golden pineapple jam — what’s not to love? They come in various shapes and sizes, with cheesy pastry versions as well.
Unfortunately, while they are technically safe for pregnant mums to consume, pineapple tarts are also high in trans-fat and sugar. Just three little tarts can contain up to five teaspoons of sugar. Its caloric content is equivalent to a whole bowl of rice!
So how? Like with all other CNY goodies, don’t eat straight from the jar to avoid overeating. Set one or two pieces on a plate and nibble to make each treat last longer. Try to purchase (or bake them yourself) low-sugar and trans-fat-free pineapple tarts. They may not be quite as yummy, but the risk of gestational diabetes is not worth it.
5. Nian Gao (Sticky Rice Cake)
This traditional CNY delicacy is a must-have, as it symbolises growing in prosperity every year. Some contain brown sugar or gula melaka, while others include layers of yam or red date paste. While the old-school version comes in a round shape wrapped in banana leaves, nian gao can also be found in the shape of koi fish or golden ingots.
Unfortunately, nian gao is mainly made of glutinous rice flour and sugar, which means it’s heavy on carbs. Pregnant mums should watch their carbohydrate and sugar intake to avoid developing gestational diabetes.
So how? Again, keep your portions small. It’s also a good idea to steam your nian gao instead of pan-frying or deep-frying it in batter.
6. Soft Drinks
CNY goodies pregnant women should avoid also include the liquid kind. During CNY visiting, our hosts are wont to proffer sweet and often carbonated drinks. We all hope for a sweeter year ahead, after all.
Unfortunately, each can of soft drink can contain up to eight teaspoons of sugar. Many also contain caffeine. Even non-carbonated drinks such as chrysanthemum tea or lemon barley contain loads of sugar.
So how? If you have to have soft drinks, choose non-carbonated drinks over carbonated ones. If possible, go for those which are low in sugar or contain no added sugars. Your best bet? Plain or sparkling water!
7. Oolong Tea / Green Tea / Longan and Red Dates Tea
Oolong tea is often served at CNY reunion dinners as they help to ‘wash’ the oily food down. Green tea is also becoming a popular addition to the range of non-carbonated tetra pack drinks served during CNY visiting. And traditionally, many families brew their own longan and red dates tea to serve to guests.
Unfortunately, each cup of tea can contain 50-100 mg of caffeine. Pregnant mums should have no more than 200 mg of caffeine daily. High caffeine intake increases the risk of miscarriages. As for home-brewed longan and red dates tea, that’s typically brewed with copious amounts of rock sugar.
So how? As with all things, drink in moderation. Have a little if you must, but as always, water is best.
8. Alcoholic Drinks
CNY also seems to bring out extra cheers! After all, what is a celebration without some buzz? Typically, this means beer or wine, or even hard liquors.
Unfortunately, alcoholic drinks during pregnancy is a big no-no. It may affect the physical and mental development of your foetus. It may also lead to premature birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage.
So how? Just — politely — say no! Your well-meaning, if slightly inebriated, uncle will understand when you remind him that you’re expecting his grand-nephew or niece. Having some cooking wine in your CNY dishes is fine, however. Just make sure the dish is simmered, without a lid, for at least 30 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.
Yes, we know that CNY without all the delicious CNY goodies pregnant women should avoid won’t feel much like CNY. But think of it this way: you’ve already got a bundle of joy in the oven — that’s surely more amazing than any pineapple tart in the world. Besides, you’re only pregnant for nine months, so you can make up for it by pigging out next year!
Featured image: One Farrer Hotel