By Helen Bond, Consultant Dietitian
Tis almost season to be jolly, but these days the festive season seems to kick-off long before you open the first door on your advent calendar…and continues past the sound of popping corks welcoming in the New Year.
Indeed, it’s not hard for healthy eating to disappear up the chimney with your Christmas list; with minced pies, mulled wine and giant selection boxes appearing from November, it’s potentially an ‘eat and drink-a-thon’ right the way through until January 2018. Christmas can be a time for indulgence, but eating, drinking and making merry, every moment of the day, and splurging on extra helpings of sugar and fat-laden food can cause you to seriously pile on the pounds over the course of a few, short, pastry and party-filled weeks. In fact, on average people gain between one and five lbs (0.5-2.5kg) over the Christmas period. And, you only need to take in 500 additional calories (kcals) a day over five weeks to see the scales register an extra 5lbs. 500 kcals may sound a lot but, especially in the context of indulgent treats, it doesn’t take much; just a glass of homemade mulled wine (271 kcals) and a minced pie (246 kcals).
But don’t despair, eating, drinking and being healthy this festive season doesn’t mean that you have to hang up your Santa hat and compromise on fun; follow my top tips to get into the Christmas spirit the healthier way:
Always start the day with a healthy breakfast
It’s easy to miss this important meal, or give in and indulge in fatty croissants to ease that Christmas party hangover. But eating a good breakfast – protein rich smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with a small glass of seasonal cranberry juice, or a bowl of wholegrain porridge topped with fresh berries and a swirl of a sugar-free liquid sweetener like SPLENDA® ZERO – if you’d like a little extra sweetness, without any more calories - will help kick start your metabolism and keep you feeling full. And, if you’re still full you’re less likely to snack on the rogue chocolates inevitably lying around.
Get creative with your advent calendar
Even big kids love opening those little advent calendar doors – it’s the perfect excuse to eat chocolate, every day (and at breakfast!) till Christmas Day. But, enjoying 25 days of chocolaty goodness, all in the name of festive tradition, will do your waistline no favours! A little chocolate Xmas character provides around 26 kcals, 1.5g fat, 2.8g sugar - even more if they are truffle or alcoholic filled – that’s an extra 650 kcals, 37.5g fat and 70g sugar over 25 days! Why not get creative with your countdown to Christmas, with an advent calendar that you can still open a daily treat, without the daily guilt.
Love seasonal fruit and veg
With the abundance of festive food, it can be easy to forget the basics of eating healthily and achieving the (at least) 5-a-day recommendation. Try to make sure to include at least two servings of fruit and three servings of veg each day, and I like to pile the veg on my plate first, rather than last. That means less room for calorie-dense and nutrient-lacking sweets and puddings.
Make time for exercise
However well you plan, life is going to get hectic over the festive period, so schedule your 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise into your week now. Exercise is also a fabulous stress buster, as it releases endorphins, making you feel happier and calmer.
Don’t skip meals
If you’re going to the office party straight after work, or you’ve got a dinner date with friends, don’t ditch lunch for fear of overdoing your daily calorie intake. You’ll be famished – and hungry people tend to make bad food decisions – hoovering up whatever canapés are offered when you arrive.
Try not to burn the candle at both ends
We cram in so much over the festive period, going out during the week and hosting family and friends at the weekends; not always giving our body the rest it needs to recuperate! And, burning the candle at both ends can also affect your waistline. Too little sleep can reduce the level of the appetite controlling hormone leptin and increase the hormone ghrelin, telling the brain you need to eat – and not always the right healthy food choices. Look at your diary and pace yourself – giving yourself a few early nights!
Rethink your tea breaks
Cut cutting down on the ‘white stuff’, is a tall order for anyone with a sweet tooth, especially around Christmas. It appears in so many of the traditional festive favourites that it’s near impossible to keep track of how much you’re eating. An easy win is to rethink your tea breaks! Instead of adding sugar to your tea, swap to a low-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA®. If you drink four cups of tea a day with two teaspoons (8g) of sugar in each cup - that adds up to 128 kcals. Your sweet tea also tots up to nearly one 1kg bag of sugar over the 25 days of December and 3,200 kcals! You, and your Xmas shopping could be a whole lot lighter for a simple sweet swap!
The key to a healthy diet is moderation, so allow yourself to indulge on occasion with a little bit of what you fancy, but do it mindfully - eat slowly and really savour the taste, smell and texture of the food, rather than mindlessly picking at food on the buffet table.
Keep calm and breathe
Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year – the expense of gifts and food, the pressure of shopping and the expectations of the season and stress can play havoc with your digestive system and health; where possible try to plan ahead to minimise your stress levels and take time to relax.
Treat sweets as treats
Everyone knows how hard it can be to eat healthily around Christmas. The constant supply of treats from guests and salty savoury snacks at work can be too tempting to avoid. Keep healthier seasonal snacks, like clementines, to hand; a medium clementine has just 25 kcals and will provide you 31% of your daily needs for immune boosting vitamin C and 1g of gut healthy fibre.
Wise-up to the buffet
Faced with a buffet, resist the temptation to start filling your plate at one end of the table and continuing to add to it until you reach the other! With such variety of temptation, portion control at a buffet can be difficult for even the most determined healthy eater. So, before you pick up the plate (and always take the smallest one!), pause for a moment and then prioritise healthy choices; fresh King prawns, smoked salmon, slices of lean ham, chicken satay sticks and vegetable crudité. Now, step away from the table.
Keep in mind portion size
Most of us are over generous with serving sizes at Christmas and it’s a fact that the bigger your tableware, the more you’ll fill it. Research shows that simply downsizing from a 12 to 10 inch plate could help you eat roughly 22% fewer calories, and you’ll not feel like you are missing out, because after all, you are still getting a plateful! Christmas is the time to put away your plus-sized plates, bowls and glasses, perhaps?
If you’re keen to find out more about making sugar swaps, or want to swot-up on healthy festive bakes ahead of the holidays, visit www.splenda.co.uk.