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January 31, 2011

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High sugar, fat and spirits

RICH and overabundant meals are a tradition during the Chinese Lunar New Year. They are a way to celebrate the success of the past year and express hope for a prosperous new year.

The idea is yu, meaning surplus or extra, a concept deeply ingrained because in ancient times there was much privation. Surplus was always a blessing.

In fact, some older people take this idea so seriously that the word "enough" is not permitted before and during the holiday. There is never enough. So today the tables groan with food, platters overflow and some dishes are deliberately not eaten - there is always something extra.

But privation is not a problem today. A week-long holiday filled with big rich meals, sometimes twice a day, when visiting relatives is too much for most digestive systems.

Doctors see more digestive problems during this festive season. Their common-sense advice: moderation and good nutrition. Eat a little of everything but don't stuff yourself.

Gastroenteritis and inflammation of the gallbladder are very common during Spring Festival, says Dr Zhou Duan, head of Internal Medicine of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

"Of course, big dinners are essential, but I advise people to get control of their eating, especially if they have chronic problems with diabetes, digestion, the liver or cardiovascular system," he says.

Overloading the system with big blasts of high-fat and high-sugar foods can add weight and aggravate problems, such as high blood pressure.

Though eating a plain diet is not feasible, people should try for meals with a balance of starches, proteins, fats, vegetables and fruits.

Eating fiber in the form of fruit, vegetables and coarse, whole grains improves digestion and moves the bowels. Oats, buckwheat, millet, corn and other grains are recommended.

Drinking alcohol is a must for most people during festivals, but a lot of alcohol damages the liver and long-term drinking can cause blood-clotting problems, fatty-liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.

As the chief organ for metabolizing alcohol, the liver works overtime when one over-drinks and function can be impaired, according to Dr Zhou Ronggen, associate chief physician of the TCM section of the Internal Medicine Department of Yueyang Hospital.

The Chinese Society of Hepatology suggests that men should not drink more than 20g of alcohol per day while women should drink less than 10g.Ten grams usually amounts to 284ml beer, 118ml wine, 78ml yellow rice wine or 25ml distilled spirit (50-proof).

Drinking a small amount of red wine every day has cardiovascular benefits and can help with high blood fat and blood pressure, but benefits do not outweigh dangers of over-drinking. It is advised to drink no more than 50ml a day.

People with liver problems, high blood pressure and cardiac problems should avoid alcohol.Having some food before drinking can help protect the digestive system, but this doesn't reduce liver damage.

Healthy drinking tips

1. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.

2. While drinking, eat foods that benefit the stomach and spleen, such as lotus root and yams. They can help protect the digestive system.

3. For those who drink a lot, lotus root, yams and hangover treatments can help if taken regularly. TCM capsules known as Hu Gan Pian (liver-protecting tablets) can help.

4. Avoid drinking when angry or depressed; drinking makes the feelings worse and can cause additional damage to the liver.

Soup for hangover

Ingredient: Gegen (lobed kudzu vine root)

Preparation: Cook 9-12 grams in water for 15 minutes. Drink soup.

Benefits: Relieves vomiting, thirst, weakness, headache and other symptoms.

Other choices: A glass of celery, orange, apple or other juice; a glass of hot water with salt; yogurt.

Lucky foods for banquet

Cooks can be as creative as they want for big festival dinners, but there are a few "lucky foods" that must appear on the New Year's Eve and other holiday tables.

Fish (yu) - It is pronounced in the same way as "surplus" and helps one gain (money, success and other things) in the new year. It must be served at the New Year's Eve dinner, but must not be eaten - the fish expresses a wish for surplus at the end of the next year.

New Year's cake (niangao) - It is pronounced in the same way as "higher every year." Eating the cake of glutinous rice flour is said to help one improve all aspects of life. It is usually served on the first day of the new year.

Leaf mustard (chang nian cai or long-time vegetable) - Eating a whole leaf from head to tail (don't chop it into pieces) expresses wishes for continued reunions over many years.

Three kinds of balls (san yuan, among fish, shrimp, pork, beef and chicken) - It is pronounced the same way as "top three scholar" in the ancient imperial examination. It expresses wishes for career success.

Don't eat broken noodles - it's really an unlucky sign.


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