Have a Christmas cracker

Make sure this festive season is both happy and healthy

According to research, the average person can expect to gain at least 1 to 2lbs over the Christmas period, with many of us consuming around a whopping 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone! There’s no doubt about it – Christmas is a time when we all overindulge a little and our healthy eating habits can often end up falling by the wayside. That’s why we spoke to the experts to get some top tips for how to enjoy both a happy and a healthy Christmas.

Avoid snacks!

When everyone is busily opening their Christmas presents and waiting for the Christmas dinner to cook, it can be tempting to snack on things such as chocolates, crisps or salted nuts. Instead, make sure you stock up on healthier options like tangerines, unsalted nuts, plain popcorn, wholegrain crisp breads, low fat cream cheese or dips and vegetable sticks.

Watch your fat intake

If you are cooking a chicken or turkey for your Christmas dinner, follow this advice from Sarah Coe, Nutrition Scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation (www.nutrition.org.uk). “Prick the skin to allow the fat to run out and cook the bird on a trivet or an upturned ovenproof plate so it is not sitting in fat all the time.” Sarah adds: “The skin on turkey or goose is where most of the fat is, so try to remove it if possible. Light meat also has slightly fewer calories than dark meat. Instead of using sausage meat stuffing, why not replace with a chestnut or fruit-based version that’s also suitable for vegetarians and vegans?”

Eat your greens!

Make sure you load up on dark green vegetables. “Dark green veggies, such as spinach, kale, rocket and watercress are super-low in carbohydrates and calories and high in fibre, meaning they have a very low glycaemic index and help to keep blood sugar levels stable,” explains nutritionist and fitness trainer Cassandra Barns. “They’re rich in antioxidant nutrients, too, such as flavonoids and carotenoids – these may help to protect against some of the complications of diabetes, such as heart disease.”

Top tip

“For dessert, serve Christmas pudding with custard made with lower-fat milk or low-fat Greek yogurt rather than double cream or brandy butter,” says Sarah Coe. “For vegan options, choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified dairy alternatives to yogurt or cream.”

Have a variety of veggies

“Serve a variety of vegetables as they all provide different essential nutrients and are low in calories and fat, provided they are not covered in butter,” says Sarah Coe. “Use chopped fresh herbs, spices or lemon zest rather than butter to add flavour. Just one teaspoon of butter adds 40 kcal (327 kJ). Try nutmeg with your Brussels sprouts – it adds a delicious Christmassy taste! Also, try steaming vegetables rather than boiling as steaming retains more vitamins in the vegetables. If you do boil vegetables, use the cooking water to make the gravy as this contains any vitamins that have been lost into the water.”

Drink plenty of water

When you’re indulging over Christmas it’s important to drink plenty of water (around eight cups) throughout the day for good digestion as well as overall health. However, Cassandra Barns says: “Make sure to drink most of your water away from meals to prevent over-diluting your digestive juices. Instead try sipping on warm water with lemon or a warm herbal tea: ginger tea in particular may be helpful for stimulating digestion.”

Tackle festive bloating

Indigestion and bloating often go hand in hand with a big, rich Christmas dinner, but there are steps you can take to avoid these digestive disasters. Not chewing properly can be a major cause of bloating. Cassandra Barns explains: “Chewing is meant to break down our food into small particles, creating the maximum surface area for the digestive juices and enzymes to process it. If you don’t chew properly, the rest of the digestive process cannot take place as it should and the result can be bloating.” Also, certain foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage may cause bloating and excess wind. Leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD (www.marilynglenville.com) explains: “For some people these vegetables are not digested completely in the small intestines, maybe due to a lack of enzymes. It means that when they reach the large intestines, bacteria in that part of the gut can cause gas and bloating when breaking down those foods.” Marilyn adds that dairy can also cause bloating. She says: “Some people don’t produce the enzyme lactase which helps them break down lactose, a sugar found in milk. You need the enzyme lactase in your body in order to break down the lactose, otherwise it ferments in the gut causing pain, gas and bloating”. Consider avoiding classic Christmas Day side dishes like cauliflower cheese to minimise your chances of bloating on the big day. Also, try taking a probiotic to help maintain a good balance of healthy gut bacteria.

Top tip

“Swap half of your regular potatoes for sweet potatoes, as an alternative that can contribute towards your five-a-day,” says Sarah Coe. “If you leave the skins on your potatoes, you can also up your fibre intake for the day.”

Drink sensibly!

“Home measures are often much bigger than you’d get when you’re out, so there are some ways you can avoid drinking more than you think are,” says Sarah Coe. “Opt for small (125ml) wine glasses, make sure you measure your spirits instead of free pouring them, and try and avoid topping up your glass before you’ve finished your drink. Also, make sure you have some low-calorie or diet drinks available in the fridge, and try experimenting with different non-alcoholic cocktail recipes.”

Make some organic swaps

Swapping a few of your regular Christmas foods and drinks for organic options is a great way of helping to tackle environmental issues and could make a big difference to animals, wildlife and the planet. According to the Soil Association, if you want to be sure your Christmas turkey is truly free range, choose organic as no system of farming has higher animal welfare standards. Choose organic for your veggies as organic crops are nutritionally different, with up to 69 per cent more antioxidants than those produced with non-organic methods. And celebrate with organic wine, beer and spirits. Organic wine contains less sulphur dioxide and sulphites. Less sulphur dioxide in your wine is rumoured to reduce hangovers.

Lastly… keep calm!

Christmas can be a stressful time of year, with endless to-do lists, presents to buy and family members to entertain. If festive stress is getting the better of you, bear in mind these words of wisdom from Dr Marilyn Glenville: “To avoid feeling overwhelmed, try to prioritise what actually needs to be done and then what can wait until tomorrow. Everyone needs some time out!”

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