With Christmas over and Lunar New Year celebrations around the corner, we prepare to eat and drink to properly celebrate the occasion. Festivities such as these set the mood and makes us feel that it’s fine to consume more than what we normally do, especially if we are guests at another person’s house.
However, moderation is essential during times such as these to prevent cardiovascular conditions from developing or worsening.
Holiday Feasting and Your Health
According to interventional cardiologist Dr. Julian Tan, ignorant consumption is the primary issue when it comes to cases of ‘holiday’ heart attacks. “People often have the tendency to eat and drink in excess during the festive season,” he says. “Too much carbohydrates or sugars can lead to diabetes, which is a precursor to heart attacks and strokes, and excessive fats lead to accumulation of cholesterol-laden plaque in the inner walls of coronary vessels, which eventually lead to heart attacks.”
A senior dietitian with the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, Ms Lynette Goh, says that it is quite common for people to gain 500g to 1kg during Lunar New Year. “A bite of bak kwa, some pineapple tarts and a few sips of a soft drink can amount to more than 500 calories,” according to Ms Goh, which is the main reason why weight gain is so common during this festive period.
The stomach may be affected where overeating is concerned but so is the heart. A study conducted by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist based in Boston, USA found that especially after a heavy meal, the risk of a heart attack is amplified fourfold.
To begin with, the heart has to work harder by pumping more blood to aid digestion, while a sudden spike in insulin levels can reduce how the coronary arteries normally relax. Binge drinking of alcohol is also dangerous as it can cause arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms. It is then important to watch what you ingest and how much you are eating as well, recommends Dr. Tan.
Tips to Avoid Overeating
That does not mean that one’s favorites, such as love letters or pineapple tarts, are barred completely! There are ways to prevent one from going all-out and eating all the delicacies that come with the festive season.
1. Fill up earlier
Avoid visiting on an empty stomach; have a snack before heading out. Low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit can stave off extreme hunger pangs which can induce indulgent consumption. Protein in yogurt helps keep energy levels up, making it easier to stay away from dishes that are high in saturated fat and salt, whereas fruit can add to fiber and antioxidant intake.
2. Control portion sizes
Focus on quality and not quantity. Lunar New Year celebrations are well known for having a wide selection of dishes and snacks to choose from. Choose your portions wisely – resist the temptation of a second helping.
3. Ease up on the fat intake
Too much of saturated fat can lead to plaque buildup which may lead to a disruption in blood flow. “As we get older, fat and cholesterol can accumulate in our arteries and form plaque, which collects silently over time.” cardiologist Dr. Eric Hong says. Should the buildup rupture, Dr. Hong warns, a clot can travel to the heart or brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
A reduction in fatty content is thus recommended to prevent plaque from collecting in our arteries. Baked nuts, seeds and vegetable chips are good alternatives over butter-laden cookies and cakes. If you are the host, avoid cooking deep-fried dishes and use healthier oil options such as canola and olive oils.
4. Reduce salt levels
Sodium intake should be decreased as well; too much salt causes fluid retention in the body. This usually results in hypertension or a sudden increase in blood pressure levels. Bottled seasoning, stock cubes should be used minimally and the consumption of the iconic food representative of Lunar New Year, bak kwa, should be limited.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol
Alcohol consumption should be limited or avoided completely. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to heart palpitations, light-headedness and difficulties in breathing. Choose plain water, sparkling mineral water, unsweetened tea or other sugar-free beverages.
If you must have a drink, do so by savoring it slowly to make it last longer and stay away from subsequent refills. “A moderate amount of red wine, which equals to one to two glasses a week is good for the heart. But do take note of the word ‘moderate’,” reminds Dr. Tan.
Beyond Lunar New Year
Dr. Hong explains that since Singapore is a multicultural society, there are many festivals of different ethnicities we can celebrate. “Eating sweet desserts is encouraged during Chinese New Year due to their symbolism of a sweet life in the coming year,” says Dr. Hong, “But discipline with even the best of homemade pineapple tarts is critical to prevent a surge in sugar levels.” He warns that diabetics should especially moderate how much they consume high-carbohydrate foods like sweet rice cakes and long noodles, common foods that are normally served at Chinese New Year gatherings.
He ends off by emphasizing moderation in consumption. As individuals should have their own boundaries on what and how much to eat. So even though you may not eat much of your favorite foods, we have come up with a list of tasty alternatives that also boost and benefit your health in the long run.
One example of a heart fortifying-food to eat are nuts, walnuts and almonds in particular, with the unsalted ones being rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds and sardines are also packed with omega-3, although the latter food should not be of the canned variety to avoid sodium overload. Sardines can also be included in the customary yu sheng as well should you tire of the usual ingredients.
Blueberries have plenty of antioxidants that may help in warding off coronary disease while brussels sprouts enhances blood vessel health. And even though mandarin oranges are customary for Lunar New Year’s, an apple a day actually results in a 40% decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), otherwise known as bad cholesterol.
Finally, while it may be a rare sight to see during Lunar New Year’s, dark chocolate is surprisingly associated with relaxing arteries and increasing blood flow. Just be sure to pick those with at least 70% cocoa in them.
All in Moderation
Always remember that it is not bad to indulge during the festive season, but being aware of what you eat and moderating your consumption is highly recommended to prevent overeating and the development or worsening of coronary diseases. Celebrate the New Year by eating and being healthy!