Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 4 December 2016

13 tips for a healthier Christmas

Ailin Quinlan

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

It's possible to have a healthy Christmas
It's possible to have a healthy Christmas
Warming teas support the immune system.
Fruit contains healthy digestive enzymes.

Over indulgence in food and drink, not to mention the stress of preparing for Christmas, can take its toll on our wellbeing, so we asked the experts to provide their top tips to keep you healthy over the holidays.

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1 Alcohol makes you hungry…

"Alcohol is liquid sugar," warns consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin, who says a single bottle of wine contains between 600 and 900 calories. Remember, the higher the alcohol content, the more sugar and calories, she says.

Though it's converted to sugar in the body, alcohol lowers blood glucose levels, which in turn triggers a hunger sensation and the desire to snack on crisps, breads, chips, pies, pizza and takeaway foods.

It's best to consume alcohol on a full stomach as this slows down its absorption and its effect on glucose levels, says Godkin, who also recommends choosing a wine that has an alcohol content of 12-12.5pc to reduce the calorie content.

2 Pigging out causes problems…

Fruit contains healthy digestive enzymes.
Fruit contains healthy digestive enzymes.

There's no denying it - we really over-do the whole food and drink thing at Christmastime, pigging out on cakes, meats, sweet treats, pies and alcohol.

It's great fun, but the bad news is that all this festive over-consumption places the body's digestive system under significant strain.

Support your digestive function, advises Godkin, by including some raw foods in the diet. Salads and fruit with lunch and dinner over the festive season are a good way to stay healthy.

"Raw foods contain digestive enzymes which support the digestive tract," she says, recommending grated fennel, carrots, white cabbage, rocket, onion and beetroot, which are super digestive aids. Also eat apple, pineapple, kiwi and pomegranate, all of which also contain important digestive enzymes.

3 Distribute the workload

The festive preparations shouldn't be allowed to rest on the shoulders of just one person, emphasises psychotherapist Karl Melvin. Delegate work, such as shopping or specific gift-buying, and let the kids help with the preparations - they need to learn responsibility.

Warming teas support the immune system.
Warming teas support the immune system.

If they show reluctance to help, be firm. Refuse to do allocated jobs for them and don't encourage lazy, uncooperative behaviour.

4 Go easy on fatty finger foods

Be careful with the finger foods and buffets, which are so much a part of the Christmas party season, cautions Godkin.

"Research has shown that people eat far more food on these occasions than they think they do," she says, adding that the consumption of finger foods increases weight gain.

"Most finger foods are deep-fried or pastries, which are particularly fattening. If you're trying to avoid weight gain over Christmas, avoid bread rolls.

"When attending buffets, aim to fill up on salads," suggests Godkin, adding that 50pc of your plate should be vegetables or salads.

5 Reduce the festive family stress

Plan your Christmas and learn to say 'no' to family, advises psychotherapist Karl Melvin. "The weeks leading up to, and after, Christmas will be a huge strain on your time and energy levels, which can be compounded by the expectations of family around seasonal visits.

"If you don't know your own limits and value your time, others might not either. Map out each day over Christmas as best you can and let everyone concerned know the plan, including the kids.

"Don't be afraid to let some family members down if a visit isn't possible," he advises.

If some people tend to overstay their welcome, be firm about explaining that you have other plans - and say your goodbye.

6 Snack Smart

Large tins of chocolates are a fixture in most people's houses at Christmas - but they're guaranteed to leave you with a spare tyre! A 2kg tin of chocolates, for example, contains just under 10,000 calories and around 500g fat! That's enough to gain 3lb, warns dietitian Paula Mee. "Sugar consumption is a big issue, particularly for children. Parents struggle with kids who have developed the snacking habit.

"Aim to avoid giving children sweets, chocolate and bars in between meals," advises Godkin, adding that it's worth suggesting to relatives to gift cinema or pantomime tickets instead of boxes of sweets and selection boxes.

Try replacing sweets with skewered, chopped fruit dipped in good-quality chocolate, and encourage children to go outside daily for walks or on their bikes.

7 Change it up

Christmas can be a difficult time for the bereaved, says psychotherapist Karl Melvin.

"As memories of past Christmases come to mind, it's common to feel melancholy and distracted from family and friends.

"Changing your location can help form new experiences and a new association with the festive season," says Melvin, who suggests changing your festive traditions - try having your Christmas dinner in a hotel, he suggests.

"This can not only distract you from any sadness you may be experiencing, but might also create healthy memories that will stick around for years to come."

8 Don't drink alcohol late at night … and eat early

Consuming alcohol late at night causes havoc for the liver, warns consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin.

"It takes the liver one hour to clear one 125ml glass of wine - and there are six glasses in a bottle of wine, not four," she warns."If you consume a bottle of wine in the evening, the liver is working extra hard for the next six hours detoxing that alcohol. This interferes with glucose metabolism, can lead to fatty liver and impairs the quality of sleep."

Eating late at night is not a good idea either, adds Godkin. "It takes four hours for digestion to complete," she explains, so if you've had too many nights out on the tiles, consider eating your main meal before 7.30pm for good-quality sleep and to restore your energy levels.

9 Be happy not SAD

Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) is a common mood disorder experienced around the Christmas period when there is less sunlight and, thus, less vitamin D3 available, says Melvin. "The shortage of D3 around then impacts serotonin levels, a naturally occurring chemical associated with positive and happy moods.

"There are several natural food sources you can use to boost your D3 levels, including oily fish such as smoked salmon, tuna and sardines; mushrooms; tofu; eggs and dairy, as well as non-dairy equivalents, such as almond milk."

10 Beat the Bloat

Too little fibre, not enough fluids, and a lack of physical activity can cause constipation, which can result in bloating, warns dietitian Paula Mee. "To avoid a sluggish bowel over the Christmas holiday make sure you have adequate fibre-rich foods at meals and aim to drink water throughout the day if possible," she advises."If you're prone to bloating and distention, avoid sparkling water and wines as the carbonation causes gas to build up in the gut. This inflates the intestine and makes you feel very uncomfortable, especially if you are wearing tight clothing.

"Drink flavoured water. Add slices of orange, lemon, lime, some mint or cucumber. If you don't like water, a cup of hot vegetable soup is ideal. Home-made versions can contain lots of fluid nourishment with few calories. "

11 Get silly!

Christmas is not just for kids, says psychotherapist Karl Melvin. "This is your time to have fun, play games and just park the seriousness of life," he declares.

So get down on the floor with your kids and mess with the Lego, Paw Patrol or whatever else they've received from Santa. "Not only will your kids love having play time with you, but it can create a healthy sense of nostalgia and help reconnect with the silly side in all of us."

12 Hydrate over the hols

Drink two litres of water a day.

If you drink coffee, always rehydrate with a glass of water - caffeine and alcohol both dehydrate the body.

Avoid fizzy and diet drinks, which contain no nutrients and are simply packed with sugars and artificial sweeteners, cautions Godkin. "These drinks are anti-nutrients. Aim to drink two litres of water per day. "

She recommends the consumption of "warming teas", such as ginger and lemon or cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise. "These teas also support the immune and digestive systems, which need a little help during this time of excess."

13 Get your mojo going…

Lack of daylight during this time of year can have a negative affect on the human condition, bringing with it a lack of energy, fatigue and low mood in some people, says Godkin. Fresh air is essential when most people are cooped up and not spending enough time outdoors in nature.

"Over the holidays, aim to get outdoors every day for a minimum of 30 minutes, a walk will suffice. Walking in nature confers major health benefits to the mind and body," she declares.

Use your walk to ground yourself psychologically, suggests Melvin: "With each step, focus on your foot connecting with the ground and the muscles in your legs activating. This will help ground you emotionally and become more mindful of what's happening inside your body. Also, walking after a meal can help aid digestion and process your food faster."

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