By Susan Bowerman, Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife Nutrition
As a melting pot of ethnicities, Malaysia is blessed with many cultural festivals. Unsurprisingly, food plays a big part when each celebration rolls around as family and friends gather to partake in the festivities. With Chinese New Year (CNY) just around the corner, celebrations may be more muted this year due to the pandemic. However, this does not mean that families will forego the popular traditional CNY goodies such as pineapple tarts, peanut cookies and love letters. After all, these treats only come our way during festivities, so they can be hard to resist. Unfortunately, they can be high in calories and low in the nutrients and vitamins our bodies need.
One way to resist unhealthy sweets and foods this season is to incorporate more protein into your 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 or cravings.
The Role of Protein
Protein is important because it helps you build and maintain lean muscle mass. It’s the foundation for bones, muscles, skin, blood, and connective tissue. Protein also helps to make meals more satisfying and having some protein at every meal and snack helps with appetite control over the course of the day and can help ensure that everyone meets their protein needs, which vary depending on body size and composition, age, and activity level.
Protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, and seeds also supply B vitamins, 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 the Holidays
Here are some ways to swap in protein as you navigate all the holiday temptations:
1. Have a Healthy, Protein-Rich Breakfast
Start the day with a high-protein breakfast – about 25 grams should do it. Instead of cereal, try a meal replacement shake or oatmeal with protein powder blended in. Studies suggest this not only helps keep you full until lunch but may even help curb your intake over the course of the day.
2. Incorporate Healthy Snacking
Try not to head to a holiday event with an empty stomach. Have a substantial snack prior, such as plain Greek yogurt or non-fat cottage cheese with fruit, or a protein-rich snack bar before you leave.
You can also bring some portable high-protein snacks with you, such as a handful of unsalted nuts, a protein bar, or a piece of low-fat string cheese, just in case.
3. Be Selective About Holiday Food
For sides, cut out the starchy sides, such as white rice, bread, mashed potatoes, and white-flour pasta. Instead, put more vegetables on your plate, and look for protein-rich beans and grains such as soybeans, black beans, or kidney beans.
As the main course, try to incorporate ingredients with a protein boost such as lean chicken or seafood with edamame, tofu, or beans as a topper.
You don’t have to completely avoid your favorite holiday foods. One trick is to skip the foods you can eat year-round, like chocolate chip cookies. Have control on cookies that are high in calories such as nian gao fritters, love letters or prawn rolls. And instead, indulge in healthier treats, like Chinese walnut cookies, tapioca flour cookies or oatmeal cookies.
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 holiday best.