The weeks leading up to Christmas can be one of the busiest and stressful times of the year. Whether its worrying about family get togethers, what presents to buy or how to avoid the festive weight gain – the stress can build up. To help you thrive during the festive season, our Nutritionist Christine Bailey has put together her 10 top festive tips to help you enjoy the Christmas period.
1) Eat mindfully
The festive period will be full of temptations. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself to something you might not typically eat but refrain from using the festive season as an excuse to over-indulge. Don’t eat for the sake of it and listen to your appetite. Try to savour any indulgences and eat them slowly and mindfully so as not to go overboard. If you want to pile your plate with potatoes and stuffing, then maybe go easy on dessert. After all, your enjoyment of Christmas is enhanced if you don’t feel bloated and stuffed.
2) Go easy on the booze
You don’t need to drink at Christmas to feel merry. That doesn’t mean you can’t but why not try a few alcohol free alternatives as well. Thankfully, there are many great alcohol-free alternatives (like our Thomson & Scott Noughty Champagne). For a fruity, gut healthy kick, try Kombucha – a wonderful fermented fizzy drink that is packed with beneficial probiotics. If you do fancy a tipple, make sure you alternate your drinks with water or make up white wine spritzers to reduce your overall intake.
3) Reduce your portions
We consume, on average, a whopping 6-7,000 calories over the course of Christmas Day – four times a woman's daily recommended intake and more than three times a man's. It’s no wonder that on average people gain about 5lbs over the festive season. This year, downsize your plate size to keep portions more manageable and slow down your eating. Spend time chatting rather than just focusing on the food.
4) Keep up the exercise throughout December
It may be tempting with the colder, darker days to cut back on your exercise but make this a priority. Exercise is a wonderful natural stress reliever and will keep you feeling energised and more productive throughout the season. It will also help you focus on making health a priority and giving yourself some much needed ‘me time’. Even if you don’t enjoy pumping weights at the gym, you can use the festive season to enjoy walks with your family and friends.
5) Eat fermented foods
Too many fatty or sugary foods? Settle an upset tummy by including some fermented foods daily. Packed with an array of beneficial bacteria, these foods can improve your microbial diversity and balance of bacteria. Plain yogurt, for example, makes a wonderful alternative to cream or custard while kefir is delicious added to a breakfast smoothie. Not only do these foods support digestive health but they boost your mood, too. It is thought these friendly bacteria may decrease inflammation in the gut and brain as well as increasing levels of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.
6) Three French hens… the health benefits of turkey
Not all festive food is unhealthy. Turkey is a great source of lean protein, iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins – all essential nutrients to keep you energised. Turkey also contains tryptophan, an amino acid which the body converts to serotonin, a brain chemical known for its mood-boosting properties (useful if the family’s already stressing you out). To make it healthier, remove the skin. Removing the skin saves you 40 calories and over half the fat (100g serving of roast turkey without skin contains 104 calories, 2g fat). Light meat has fewer calories, but darker meat contains more iron.
7) Add in more greens
One of the easiest ways to boost your health is to include more vegetables on the festive table. Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are bursting with health protective antioxidants such as sulforaphanes as well as plenty of folate, vitamin C and fibre. Aim to cover half of your plate with a rainbow selection of steamed veggies – these will not only boost your antioxidant intake but being rich in fibre will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
8) Focus on quality protein
Got a party to attend or meal out in the evening? Keep your protein and veggies up during the day. This way you’ll keep hunger pangs at bay without excessive calories giving you a buffer for the night ahead. Don’t be tempted to fast all day as you will end up starving and more likely to gorge in the evening. Healthy Nibbles has a great range of protein selection boxes to ensure you have plenty of options to hand.
9) Enjoy chocolate, but go dark
We all love a little chocolate, but for a healthier choice opt for at least 70% cocoa solids and watch your portion size. There are over 300 naturally occurring chemicals in chocolate, and some of them can affect the human brain via the release of particular neurotransmitters which affect how we think and feel. For example, phenylethylamine is sometimes called “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. Another chemical found in chocolate known as tryptophan causes the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. A recent study found that eating 40g (just an ounce and a half) of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in highly stressed, anxious individuals. The researchers discovered that compounds in dark chocolate affected our beneficial gut bacteria which changed the metabolism of stress hormones reducing overall anxiety.
10) Healthier snacking
Want something different from the usual selection box? Treat yourself or a loved one to a Healthy Nibbles Hamper. These also make ideal presents for the friend who has everything! Whatever your dietary requirements, there is a selection for you. Having a selection of healthier snacks to hand is a great way to tackle any Christmas cravings and will also mean you have plenty of options for family and friends visiting.