Han Bok-ryeo, president of the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, displays a Korean traditional royal table for Lunar New Year’s Day in this file photo. The holiday fare, however, makes people gain weight. / Korea Times file
It is the Lunar New Year’s holiday when people are excited to see relatives and friends. However, the long holiday involves some health risks.
The biggest problem is that people can easily gain a kilogram or two if they don’t watch how much they are eating. Ha Jung-baek, a salaried worker in his 30s, recalls that he would gain two kilograms every Lunar New Year’s holiday, and Chuseok, or the Korean version of Thanksgiving. He complains that as he is conscious that he is somewhat overweight, he takes care not to overeat. He usually has only a bowl of “tteokguk,” or rice cake soup that Koreans traditionally eat on the holiday, accompanied by some “namul,” or seasoned vegetables, and some fruit as dessert, which doesn’t seem to be too much in calories. Where, then, do the two kilograms come from?
Prof. Song Hong-ji at the department of family medicine at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital says that the extra kilos come from the pieces of rice cake that people grab bites of and the cups of “sikhye,” or rice punch, that they sip, while loitering among relatives.
“After the holidays, we see many people visiting the obesity clinic at our hospital complaining that they gained weight though they skipped meals. However, it often turns out that they had more snacks such as rice cake and fruit than usual though they didn’t have full meals,” Song said.
The holiday table is in fact full of dishes high in calories: a bowl of tteokguk has 463 kcal, a piece of “galbijjim,” or steam cooked rib, has 143 kcal, and a dish of “japchae,” or sauted vegetables with noodle, 191 kcal. People often watch out when these foods are on the table but they rarely pay attention to snacks that they have in between: a piece of “dongtaejeon,” or pollack pancake, for instance, has 88 kcal, and a tangerine has 50 kcal while 100 grams of “hangua,” or Korean traditional cookies, has 470 kcal, exceeding that of a bowl of boiled rice. A cup of “sikhye,” which is usually considered as a health drink, has over 200 kcal. When summed up, the traditional snacks enjoyed without much thought are more detrimental than a full-course meal on this special day.
“Once you overeat, there is no special treatment. You have no option but to wait until the food gets digested, feeling short of breath. You may try digestion pills, but you should know that they are hardly effective,” Prof. Cho Be-long at Seoul National University Hospital said.
The professor said that people should make a conscious effort to prevent overeating, decreasing exposure to food and allocating more time for physical activities such as sports or games. Such a conscious effort is critical due to changes in holiday culture here. In the past, the holidays involved a lot of physical activities, visiting relatives in neighborhoods or playing traditional games such as kite flying or “neolttuigi,” a jumping game. These days, however, many are playing games on smartphones or watching TV, or playing “hwatu,”a card game involving gambling. Such sedentary activities, however, consumes little energy. An hour’s drive, for instance, consumes only 41 kcal.
The professor advised that helping with the household choirs will not only help people burn calories but also relieve housewives of burden and stress. Taking children outside and playing traditional games with them will perhaps see people being remembered as good parents or uncles or aunts.
As tens of millions of people head to their hometown, traffic accidents are bound to increase. Cho recommends that people with a hot temper or those who have had traffic accidents before should consider using public transport in the traffic chaos of the holidays. If public transportation is not an option, however, they should make sure to start in advance so that they don’t have to hurry. “The risk of car accident increases if you drive for more than two hours in a row. Hence, you should take a rest for 10 minutes every two hours,” Cho said.
He also stressed ventilation. “As the inside of the car is stuffy, you should ventilate frequently. Especially when you are using a heater, use the ventilation and open the windows often.”
One should also take enough sleep before driving a long distance. When you feel sleepy, you should switch with someone else to drive and take a short nap.
Drunk driving is also a huge problem in a country that is somewhat lenient to drunks. “We should build up an atmosphere where people would stop anyone who is trying to drive drunk,” Cho said.
“Most people will have happy holidays, but we should keep in mind that accidents do happen. Prevention is not really difficult, but those who fail to prevent them will suffer big damage,” he added.