4 healthy, elderly-friendly food swaps for your Chinese New Year candy box

Huddle over! A healthy makeover of your confectionery box is underway. Read on to find out how you can save your waistline and help your elderly guests stay fit with a few simple food swaps.

The Chinese New Year candy box, known as ‘chuen hap’, is a festival staple as essential a part of the celebration as red pockets and firecrackers. It is typically stocked with various “fortune” candies, which symbolise wealth, happiness, and luck — and potential health risks that stem from extra sugar and fat. To help you and your family kickstart an auspicious New Year, we’ve drawn up a list of healthier alternatives.

1) Choose your nuts wisely

Roasted seeds and nuts such as melon seeds and salted pistachios are candy box essentials. When served right, they can deliver great health benefits: nuts can help stave off illnesses including chronic diseases and inflammation, and promote longevity. However, many of those found in candy boxes are often adulterated with preservatives and flavourings, making them high in fat and sodium content.

Alternatives: unsalted, baked nuts, sunflower seeds, almond fish

When shopping for nuts, avoid the overly salted and honey-glazed versions, which are often packed with unnecessary sugar and sodium. Keep an eye out for seeds with an unnatural layer of gloss because they may have been added with mineral oil, which  can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. If your elderly guests have digestive, chewing, or swallowing difficulties, you may want to leave nuts out of the box, in case they pose a choking risk.

2) Stock up on dried fruits

Candied lotus roots, coconut strips, winter melons — these sugar-coated bites are a seasonal specialty among the array of Chinese New Year delicacies. Simmered in sugar syrup, these treats are tooth-achingly sweet and loaded with calories. 6 candied lotus seeds contain as much as 10g of sugar and 100 calories.

Alternatives: Dried apricots, baked banana chips, raisins, baked apple chips

Dried fruits pack a hefty nutritional punch. Not only are they naturally high in fibre, they also contain more antioxidants (such as phenols) than fresh fruit, per ounce. And, they taste as good as they are for you. As Dr. Anthony Komaroff wrote, dried fruits helps fight heart disease, obesity, and several types of cancer, and possibly degenerative brain diseases.

Photo by Vinicius Amano

3) Go for some real chocolate and low-sugar jelly

Rabbit milk candy, Ferrero Rocher, and gold chocolate coins are our childhood favorites and candy box fixtures. Still, given their sugar content and other chemical agents, you may want to think about consuming them in moderation.

Alternatives: Dark chocolate, konjac jelly

Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids, which can be a fabulous source of flavonoids (a class of antioxidants). Although the nutritional quality of dark chocolate may not be as high as we’d like to believe, it’s still a healthier alternative to most candies in the market. Konjac jelly, in its natural form, is high in fibre and contains virtually zero calories, no sugar, fat, protein, gluten or carbohydrates. While its nutritional value is debatable, it makes for a low-calorie sweet tooth fix.

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4) Swap deep-fried snacks for rice crackers

Both deep-fried dumplings and sweet egg twists are indispensable treats during the Lunar New Year Festival. For the love of crispy, delectable treats  – who wouldn’t want some? However, with that crunchy comfort comes extra calories. That said, there are ways to satiate your crunch cravings without sacrificing your waistline.

Alternatives: homemade rice crackers, rice crispies

Rice crackers are usually low in sugar and fat, making it a great alternative to deep-fried snacks and chips. That said, their nutritional value is minimal since they are usually made from refined white rice with very little fibre and protein; their high GI can also raise blood sugar levels quickly. To boost its nutritional value and slow down blood sugar response, consider serving them with nut butter or hummus, or toppings such as tuna and avocado.