Coping with Christmas nutritionally.
Anyone who knows me or has listened to one of my talks will know that I don’t believe in good and bad foods or particularly approve of guilt. Eating is something we all need to do. If we are to make healthy changes, these have to fit in with our lives and make us happy or the changes won’t last long.
So how do we best cope with the temptations of Christmas?
There is a tendency at Christmas to throw out the rule book and eat far more than usual. December can be one long party, with more temptations about. Meal patterns are often distorted with meals eaten at different times and there may be more “big” meals. Under these circumstances planning is key.
- The first tip is to stick to your usual breakfast. The temptation is either to indulge in fry-ups and pastries, continuing the party spirit or to skip breakfast to try and compensate for the day before. Both are a disaster. A good low GI breakfast will give a boost of slow release energy, setting you up well for the day and lessening the urge to eat more.
- Plan healthy snacks. Many Christmas parties and meals run late and you are much more likely to overindulge if you are over-hungry. Having healthy snacks around will make you eat less at meal times and also will help stop you snacking on less than healthy mince pies, cake and crisps.
- Remember the rule that half of your plate should be vegetables. The USAs healthy eating advice, which is based on the latest research advises that half of every plate we eat should be fruit or vegetable. This is a hard thing to achieve at the best of times but worth aiming for.
- Think about what ‘treats’ you will enjoy most. It might be worth skipping the nibbles but having cream on your mince pies or saying no to mince pies but eating loads of after dinner cheese. Perhaps you will choose to indulge in Christmas specialities but not on things that you can have all year, favouring nuts and dates over chocolate and jelly babies.
- Avoid second helpings, a good rule all year but even more important at this time of year.
- Drink lots of water.
Planning is a lot easier when you are in charge of what you buy and what you eat, it’s much harder when you don’t know what you will be given or when. Here are a few tips for eating out.
- Eat a snack before going to a party. Often having rushed to get ready and to the party on time, you are already hungry before you get there. You may also be conscious that drinking on an empty stomach is a mistake and so immediately search for nibbles, eating the first thing to hand. Having a yoghurt, some cereal, fruit, cheese or even just a latte before you go out can mean that hunger won’t rule the choices you make and that you are more selective about what you eat.
- Research has shown that holding your drink in you favoured hand (right if you are right handed) makes you less likely to pick at snacks that are in reach.
- Studies also show that the greater the choice of food on offer, the more calories we tend to consume. Rather than trying a little of everything, its best to stick to a couple of smart choices. The British Nutrition Society has produced the table below to give an idea of the difference healthy choices can make.
- If you are going to a friends house don’t take edible gifts. If you arrive with cake it’s very difficult to say “no thank you” to eating cake.
|Nibble||kcal||kJ||fat (g)||Healthier alternative||kcal||kJ||fat (g)|
|Sausage on a stick||37||155||3.3||Cheese pineapple stick||25||105||1.7|
|Mini pastry tarlet||45||188||3.2||Mini filo tartlet||30||125||1.5|
|Breaded chicken bite||40||167||2.0||Marinated chicken bite||29||121||0.8|
|Salmon and cream cheese bite||30||125||2.5||Salmon sushi bite||28||117||Tr|
|Mini bhaji||64||268||2.8||Mini satay stick||34||142||1.6|
|Prawn toast||53||222||4.1||Prawn wanton||35||146||2.3|
|Handful of crisps||54||226||3.7||Handful of twiglets||38||160||1.2|
|Handful of salted peanuts||117||490||10||Handful of pretzels||46||192||0.3|
|2 cheese straws||100||418||6.4||One large breadstick||25||105||0.4|
|Serving of sherry trifle||318||1330||20||Serving of satsumas in brandy||150||628||Tr|
|Glass of bucks fizz||103||431||0||White wine spritzer||66||276||0|
|Glass of red wine||122||510||0||Glass of mulled wine (made with juice)||90||376||0|
|Measure of Irish Cream||162||678||6.0||Measure of advocaat||136||569||3.0|
|One marzipan fruit||51||123||1.7||One fruit jelly||39||163||0|
|Handful of macademia nuts||150||628||15.5||Handful of almonds||122||510||11|
|3 pieces of chocolate orange||136||582||7.9||3 sticks of chocolate covered orange peel||90||376||3.9|
|4 wrapped chocolates||160||669||8.0||4 dates||116||485||0|
|Mince pie||236||994||6.8||Mini mince pie||82||346||2.5|
|Sour cream and chive dip (2 tbsp)||110||460||11.3||Salsa (2 tbsp)||20||84||Tr|
On Christmas day most of us can consume up to 6000 kcal (25104 kJ), which is 3 times the recommended daily intake for women and over 2 times that for men but there are several tricks that can make Christmas less of a nightmare.
The skin on turkey or goose is where most of the fat is. Taking off the skin can save about 50 kcal per portion. Also light meat has slightly fewer calories than dark meat although it also has less minerals/vitamins.
- Replace sausage meat stuffing with a chestnut or fruit-based version.
Larger roast potatoes absorb less fat during roasting as they have a smaller surface area than the same amount of potato cut into smaller pieces. This also applies to parsnips or carrots. Alternatively parboil potatoes before brushing with olive or vegetable oil and just finish off in the oven.
Make bread sauce with skimmed milk or half milk/half water. Add a clove of garlic for extra flavour.
To make low fat gravy, pour the turkey juices in to a jug and wait for the fat to rise to the surface. Carefully pour or spoon off the fat before using the juices to make gravy.
Serve lots of vegetables. Use chopped fresh herbs or lemon zest rather than butter to add flavour. Just one teaspoon of butter adds 40 kcal (327 kJ).
Christmas pudding with custard or greek yogurt as an alternative to double cream or brandy butter?
Surely it is the season to be jolly – but it’s worth remembering that alcohol is a drug and can have lasting effects on metabolism.
- Firstly, alcohol can irritate your digestive system. Drinking – even a little, makes your stomach produce more acid than usual, which can cause gastritis, trigger heart burn and tummy pain and irritate IBS. Alcohol also reduces the amount of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas to break down fats and carbohydrates, lowers nutrient absorption, particularly B vitamins, folic acid and zinc and speeds the passage of food through the gut.
- Alcohol also impairs the mechanisms the body uses to control blood glucose levels. Research has shown that drinking can increase insulin secretion, causing low blood sugar and impairing the hormonal response that would normally rectify it. Drinking as little as 2 ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to very low blood sugar levels. As well as causing fatigue, irritability and poor concentration, low blood sugar increases appetite and cravings for sweet foods, encouraging you to eat more. This effect can last for more than 24 hours. Low blood sugar and dehydration are the main causes of hangovers.
- Alcohol upsets our normal sleep cycles. While it cuts the time it takes to fall asleep and causes a deep sleep, it also stops one of the most satisfying types of sleep, REM, where dreams occur and means you often wake after just a few hours. This can cause insomnia and suppression of REM sleep has also been shown to make people up to 25% less sensitive to insulin, meaning more insulin is needed to reduce blood glucose levels. This can lead to greater fat storage.
Its not all bad news…. Regular moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to lower heart disease and cancer, and may even aid digestion of high fat meals. Particular attention has been given to a stilbenoid phenolic compound, resveratrol, found in grape skins and giving red wine it’s suggested health benefits.
It is also worth noting that most alcohol is not digested like other foods, avoiding the normal digestive process and going straight into the bloodstream. Some alcohol is broken down in the stomach by alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme – reducing absorption by up to 20% but your amount of dehydrogenase varies from person to person and is generally lower in women. Women also tend to absorb alcohol quicker than men due to their lower body water content. The effect of alcohol really does vary from person to person and women are more at risk than men. Drinking lots of water, sugary mixers and not drinking on an empty stomach can lower alcohols negative effects. Carbonated mixers, diet mixers and consuming alcohol with caffeine can make you drunk quicker and has been shown to increase stress on the liver.
I have read a number of sports biographies and also spoken to elite athletes who acknowledge that their Christmas regime has given them both psychological and physical advantage in competitions at the start of the new year. Training in the knowledge that your competitors are unlikely to be doing the same can be very rewarding. For the rest of us I am not suggesting we run 10miles before opening our stockings but it is worth noting that as little as two minutes walking after a meal has been shown to have real benefits, lowering blood glucose and aiding digestion.