Your festive season survival guide

Expert advice for a happy, healthy Christmas!

Christmas is an exciting and busy time, often spent socialising and indulging in rich food and drink. But amongst all this fun we can end up falling into unhealthy habits and becoming at risk of getting ill, exhausted or stressed. Here are some expert tips to keep happy, healthy and free from stress this festive season.

Prep your digestive system

“Sip peppermint tea about half an hour before a meal to prep your digestive tract in anticipation of food,” says naturopath Elle Fox, a graduate of CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine: naturopathy-uk.com)).

“Sip fennel tea after a large meal to support the digestion and reduce wind and discomfort. Make sure you chew your food well before you swallow; this gives your stomach and intestines enough time to produce digestive juices. Certain homeopathic medicines such as Nux vomica 30c; one dose taken before and one after a large meal can also help reduce discomfort. If you find that your digestive system complains regularly, ask a naturopathic nutritionist for individualised help.”

Look after your liver

Christmas is notoriously a time when many of us enjoy a few alcoholic tipples. Be sure to drink in moderation (see our mindful drinking section below) and give your liver some love this festive season. “We all know the liver has a role in detoxing the body, but your liver also helps you to make your hormones, store vitamins and minerals, and creates bile which helps you to digest fats in your gut,” says naturopath Lucy Peel who practises from Neal’s Yard therapy rooms in Bath (www.naturopathyforhealth.co.uk) “To do its job properly, your liver needs a few things from you, including good sources of protein and fats. Oily fish (mackerel, anchovy, salmon) and nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds) are ideal food sources to help our livers work efficiently. We also need various nutrients for the different stages of detoxification in the liver. Eating two daily servings of fruit such as berries, kiwi fruits, pears and apples will help with the first stage of detoxification and then eating your five servings of vegetables will help with the second stage. Make sure your daily intake of veg includes a portion or two of brassica vegetables including kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and pak choi. Foods that balance the detoxification process include watercress, artichoke and pomegranate. It is also important to make sure you are drinking a sufficient amount of water (six to eight glasses a day) to help with the elimination of toxins and to support other enzymatic processes in your body.”

Soothe your stress

“For symptoms of mild stress there are many useful homeopathic remedies available for self-help and, being natural, are without any known side effects,” explains Roz Crompton, a qualified homeopath and Trade and Marketing Manager at Helios Homeopathy (www.helios.co.uk). “Aconite/Arg-Nit/Arsenicum are combined to form a homeopathic remedy with a long history of traditional use to relieve symptoms associated with stress including fearfulness, anticipatory anxiety, panic attacks and more. Nux Vomica has a long history of traditional homeopathic use for indigestion, intoxication and stress. Nux Vomica helps to neutralise both the effect of stress on the mind and excess intake of food, alcohol and drugs on the digestive system. It is a great remedy for over indulgence so often seen around Christmas time.”

Healthy Christmas swaps

Avoid the end-of-year weight increase and its subsequent January blues this Christmas by adding these helpful ingredients to your menu without compromising on your favourites!

Sweet potatoes

Swap regular potatoes for sweet potatoes, as they are full of water and protein which keep you feeling full for longer. The fibre content stops fat from being absorbed, provides energy and clears toxins from the body by boosting bowel movement. Michela Vagnini, nutritionist at Natures Plus (naturesplus.com) recommends roasting your sweet potatoes in the oven with red onion, salt and pepper. Michela advises using olive oil or coconut oil for cooking as “they are healthier and more heat stable”.

Veggie gravy

A healthier alternative to the traditional meaty gravy is to make fresh, homemade chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you are vegetarian or vegan). “Add mushrooms, onion, cloves and port wine or sherry if you like an extra zing to your sauce,” says Michela. “Avoid stock cubes and ready-made stocks as they are usually rich in salt and flavourings.” She also recommends adding “different sauces like fresh basil pesto, sugar-free cranberry sauce or extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic” to enhance flavour.

Lean Christmas pudding

Traditional Christmas pudding can be heavy on the sugar and hard to digest. Why not try making your own instead? “Don’t add any sugar as the sweetness from the dried currants and raisins will be enough,” says Michela. “Instead of candied peels use zest and fresh orange or lemon juice and swap butter or lard for coconut butter. For brandy sauce use a good organic natural or coconut/almond yogurt. You could also make a healthy sauce with a mix of citrus juice, rum or brandy, date syrup and coconut oil.”

Practise ‘mindful drinking’

“Although it’s widely considered to be the most wonderful time of the year for a beer, Christmas doesn’t have to mean over-indulging as part of the celebrations,” says nutritionist and food writer Fiona Hunter. Here are her top tips for mindful drinking:

• Learn how to say no – don’t let anyone cajole you into drinking if you don’t want to or to have another drink when you’ve had enough – learn to politely say ‘no thank you’.

• Keep track of what you’re drinking – it can be hard to keep track of how much you’ve had at parties and dinners if the perfect host keeps topping up glasses. Don’t let anyone fill up your glass before it’s empty.

• Choose low percentage or non-alcoholic alternatives – with low and non-alcoholic beer becoming more popular there are now many top-quality alternatives to choose from.

• Space out your drinks – try to have a non-alcoholic drink between each alcoholic drink – balance is key!

• Offer to be designated driver – it’s both a good reason not to drink and it will definitely earn you some brownie points with your family and friends.

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