The festive season can be a difficult time to stick to a healthy eating programme. With all those family gatherings, parties and meals out, eating fatty, sugary food becomes the norm. We consume, on average, a whopping 6-7,000 calories over the course of Christmas Day around 3-4 times a woman’s daily recommended intake. It’s no wonder that on average people gain about 5lbs over the festive season.
If you want to avoid having to battle the bulge in the New Year, then read on to find out how you can still enjoy yourself but implement a few little swaps to avoid overindulging. Many festive foods can be healthy – you just need to make savvy choices and watch those little ‘extras’ and portion sizes.
Turkey: A great source of lean protein, iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Contains tryptophan, an amino acid which the body converts to serotonin a brain chemical known for its mood-boosting properties – useful if Christmas is stressing you out.
Make it healthier: 100g serving of roast turkey without skin (104 calories, 2g fat). Removing the skin saves you 40 calories and over half the fat (calories you might want to use elsewhere!). Light meat has fewer calories but darker meat contains more iron.
Sweet Potatoes: Instead of roast potatoes a healthier option would be to switch to sweet potato. With their lovely orange colour they are an excellent source of beta-carotene; the plant form of vitamin A and an essential nutrient for healthy skin and a healthy immune system.
Make it healthier: Don’t drench your potatoes in inflammatory vegetable oil. Instead par boil then coat in a little melted coconut oil before roasting. Coconut oil is a heat stable fat and contains lauric acid for immune health.
Brussels sprouts and other veggies: Love them or hate them it’s worth piling the sprouts on your plate – bursting with cancer fighting sulforaphane, folate, vitamin C and fibre these festive favourites have been shown to reduce DNA damage. Cover at least half of your plate with a colourful selection of steamed veggies and boost your antioxidant intake.
WHAT TO WATCH
Stuffing and ‘extras’
Sausages, meat stuffing and bacon are processed, high in salt and often additives. Just one rasher of bacon contains up to 6g fat and 90 calories. Add a serving of stuffing with gravy and you’re eating over 320 calories.
Make it healthier: Swap the sausage meat for a veggie based stuffing. This will fill you up and provide another way of getting more vegetables and fibre.
The Sweet ‘Treats’
Mince pies: Just because they contain dried fruit does not make these healthy! One mince pie contains 203 calories and ladened with sugar – about 4tsp per mince pie.
Make it healthier: Make your own so you know what they contain and make mini versions to watch portion sizes.
Christmas Pudding: Watch your portions!! A typical serving will set you back over 320 calories, 49g sugar (over 12tsp) and 8g fat. Add a dollop of brandy butter and you are talking serious calories and sugar.
Make it healthier: Reduce your portion size and top it with plain yogurt instead of cream. If you are making your own pudding trying using xylitol instead of sugar (a natural low glycemic sugar and lower in calories) to sweeten.
Box of Chocs: Half a selection box 125g box adds up to 680 calories and 15tsp sugar. If it’s out you are more likely to reach for them. Keep them out of sight, donate them to a charity or give them away to friends. If you really fancy a chocolate fix have a couple of squares only of quality dark chocolate.
It wouldn’t be Christmas time without a few drinks to set the mood, but every sip of alcohol is going to pack on the calories. For example a glass of white wine contains 140kcal, Martini 295kcal and a Margarita 360kcal. Just one shot of Baileys contains a 130kcal so you can see how quickly they add up. Pace yourself and alternate with glasses of fizzy water.
The Cheese Board
Another Christmas killer is that popular cheese board, little portions of cheese can rack up huge calories. A typical serving is just a matchbox size of cheese – not the whole block!! For example 1 x 200g camembert wheel contains 615kcal and 1 x 250g Jarlsberg wedge is a huge 969kcal. Why not snack on a few grapes or oat cakes with just a thin slice of cheese instead.
HEALTHIER FESTIVE TREATS
Looking for a sweet treat? Try some of these:
Satsumas: This traditional stocking staple is a low calorie treat bursting with vitamin C, antioxidants and plenty of soluble fibre. Two satsumas contain just 36kcal.
Dark chocolate: Choose at least 70% cocoa solids. Prevent overdoing it and pick mini bars.
Handful of mixed nuts: Rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and essential fats plus vitamins and minerals to keep you energised. Just watch your portion size – just a small handful is enough.
HOW TO TACKLE A HANGOVER
Overdone the booze? Hangovers affect everyone differently. Those common symptoms of low mood, irritability, headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, and fatigue are linked to depletion of stored neurotransmitters in the brain and something known as “refractory sensitivity.”
Neurotransmitters are chemicals affecting how we think and feel (hence the low mood and irritability) while refractory sensitivity refers to imbalances in different receptors in the body which can make you more prone for example to light or noise sensitivity.
The simplest way to avoid a hangover is to not drink. Drinking too much alcohol, no matter what kind, will probably make you feel rough the next morning. That said in addition to alcohol, certain chemicals called congeners in alcoholic drinks, which result from the fermenting process can make hangovers worse. Congeners are found in greater concentration in darker liquors. So whiskey, beer, red wine are likely to give you more hangover symptoms than a vodka for example.
During Your Night Out
During your night out try and eat something. This helps slow the release of alcohol and diminish its negative effects. Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water or tomato juice (good source of electrolytes) through the evening. Alcohol is a diuretic and one of the issues with a hangover is dehydration. Drinking non-alcoholic drinks may also stop you from drinking so much.
At the end of the party drink at least 2-3 glasses of water or coconut water (good source of electrolytes) as your body will be dehydrated. Before you go to bed take at least 500mg of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a valuable nutrient to help your liver detoxify alcohol. Alcohol actually increases urinary excretion of vitamin C making it particularly useful after the party.
The Morning After
While working out after a night of drinking might seem like the best way to get yourself up in the morning, it is probably not the best idea. You are likely to be already dehydrated so sweating it out at the gym is likely to make you feel worse not better. Apart from additional risk of dehydration and loss of electrolytes, exercising with a hangover is actually counterproductive – your workout will feel far more physically draining, due to the inevitable fatigue, headaches and possible nausea that accompanies a hangover. Your blood sugar will be low if you workout on an empty stomach which could make you feel tired and mean your co-ordination is worse increasing your risk of injury.
Research has also shown that alcohol impairs the synthesis of protein and building of new muscle. It also decreases the production of human growth hormone – which plays a key role in muscle repair and growth. So if you’re looking to build muscle your efforts could be seriously affected by regular heavy drinking. Drop the booze and you’ll muscles will thank you for it.
If you really insist of working out then rehydrate with electrolytes and eat something to stabilise your blood sugar before your workout. Choose foods that are easy to digest and provide some protein and slow releasing carbs. Some people find that caffeine can be helpful (in moderation) particularly if they have a headache – take a look at the ONE PRO Nutrition Berry flavoured Ultra Hydration Tabs with added caffeine.
An easy option would be a whey protein shake with a banana and coconut water (coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes). Alternatively try and bowl of porridge for some slow releasing carbs and have a glass of tomato juice to provide electrolytes and vitamin C. If you feel a little queasy try sipping some ginger tea or cordial. Ginger’s root contains chemicals called gingerols and shogaols. These chemicals relax the intestinal tract, preventing motion sickness and relieving the nausea and colicky stomach cramps.
While a fry up is not probably not a good idea you could try a poached egg. Eggs contains an amino acid called N acetyl cysteine, one of the building blocks of an antioxidant called glutathione known to support liver detoxification. Eggs also provide plenty of protein to support energy levels through the morning.
During the Day
If the thought of food makes your stomach turn try snacking through the day to keep your blood sugar stable. Certain B vitamins are depleted after heavy drinking so consider taking a B vitamin complex and include foods naturally rich in B vitamins (e.g baked potato, banana, beans, leafy greens, eggs, chicken, nuts, seeds).
Heavy drinking can also deplete magnesium levels which plays a key role in energy production. Good food sources include nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, avocado and whole grains like wholemeal rice.
If energy levels flag snack on a little fruit or make up a protein berry smoothie. Watermelon is another good option – hydrating and a great source of antioxidants. Try our new Vegan Protein Bars for a convenient option – in two delicious flavours Raspberry & Chocolate and Peanut & Cacao.
Faizallah R , Morris AI , Krasner N , et al . Alcohol enhances vitamin C excretion in the urine. Alcohol Alcohol 1986;21:81–4
Chen MF , Boyce HW , Hsu JM . Effect of ascorbic acid on plasma alcohol clearance. J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9:185–9.doi:10.1080/07315724.1990.10720368
Growth hormone and muscle synthesis –https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/35/2/148/152687