How many of us are “on a diet” these days? I crack up when I notice that someone who is on a diet and supposed to be eating something healthy and nutritious, are actually ruining their health by eating something labeled “healthy alternatives.”

Sugar is bad for you, right? So they switch to artificial sweeteners. And guess what’s in those tiny packages? You guessed it — chemicals that are made with artificial ingredients.

How about margarine? If you think butter is bad for you, how about eating a large spoonful of “flavored” petroleum?

I started to read the food labels just to justify my opinions on what I’m writing about, and I am appalled that, after two to three ingredients that are actually related to the label, the rest are all chemical ingredients that I do not recognize, or have names that I can’t even pronounce.

So, what can we do? What is safe to eat?

Actually, all foods are good for us, but only in moderation. I love pizza and fried chicken, but can you imagine eating them five or six times a week, with a side of breadsticks or mashed potatoes and gravy, and then wash them down with two or three local brews, or Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke?

And how about those snacks before and after the meal? The potato chips, M&Ms, chocolate cookies, ice cream … aah, all my favorites!

The French are known for their tasty cuisine, wines and desserts. But how do those ladies stay so trim and skinny? The key is moderation, something that we can all learn.

Instead of feasting on candy bars, just have a piece of great chocolate. Instead of a huge steak or fish, have an 8 oz piece with vegetables on the side, and one piece of great bread instead of eating a whole loaf with dinner.

We just happen to be the most obese country in the world. Yes, in the whole wide world. How can that be, when we have all these diet and health programs to help us stay trim and fit?

I think that it is all our own fault — we are the land of plenty and abundance. We are what we eat, but there’s no one there to tell us when, and what, we can or cannot eat anymore.

There are no more moms and grandmas who love us and tell us what to do. We are independent and we are free, so we can do what we want, and eat what and whenever we want. And guess what happens? Oh, we do miss our moms and grandmas.

Well, enough lecturing. It is Chinese New Year, eat and drink and be merry, but all in moderation. Let’s be healthy and stay healthy. Believe it or not, with health, wealth will be right behind.

Now, let’s talk about the food that we eat during the Chinese New Year. The Chinese are very traditional (I dare not say superstitious) and we will eat anything that will bring us good fortune and prosperity.

So, what’s there to eat? What’s on the menu on a New Year’s banquet?

Here are the key ingredients. And restaurants would create fancy names to enhance luck, joy and happiness.

1. Lettuce – pronounced as “sahn choy,” which rhymes with words meaning generate fortune. Who doesn’t want fortune knocking on your door?

2. Dried oysters – pronounced “hoa xi,” which rhymes with prosperous market. A must for those who invest in the stock markets.

3. Dried sea urchin, or dried sea cucumber – pronounced “hi zin”, which means open heart, or totally delighted or absolute happiness.

4. Fish – pronounced “yu,” which rhymes with leftovers. Every household prefers having leftovers in their bank accounts than being in debt, right? We always serve the fish whole, with the head and the tail. Whatever relationship we are in, we always finish what we started with. That’s most important in careers and businesses.

5. Shrimp – pronounced “ha.” The sound we make when we laugh, a joyous sound in our household.

6. Broccoli – pronounced “jei lan,” which rhymes with get rid of hardships. “No more hard times henceforth,” my mother would say when she dished me spoonful of broccoli into my rice bowl.

7. Pork tongue – pronounced “chu lei.” Lei rhymes with profit. Be profitable.

I hope your new year will be filled with laughter and no hardships. You will generate a great fortune with a lot of leftover profits.

Kung hey fat choy! Happy Year of the Rat!

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