Healthy festive eating

Eating well over Christmas means enjoying delicious festive food and staying fit and healthy. But the winter holiday period does have its health hazards. Putting on weight and drinking too much alcohol are the main ones. With a little know how you can keep in good shape and still enjoy yourself if you follow some simple guidelines.

Christmas holiday weight gain

Studies of Christmas holiday weight gain show an adult typically gains between 0.5 and 1 kg over the Christmas holiday period. These studies have also shown that despite attempts to lose excess weight in January, the holiday period weight gain is extremely hard to reverse.

Why does weight gain happen over Christmas?

The reason people gain weight over Christmas is the amount of calories consumed rises from the recommended daily 2,000 calories for an adult to 6,000 calories on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Calorie intake tends to stay high until eating returns to normal after the holidays. For many people exercise levels are also reduced as they slow down to watch increasing amounts of television.

Where are the dietary danger zones?

The main source of excess calories in the diet are food and drink high in fat and sugar and alcohol.

Buffet food is particularly risky for the waist line as it is usually high in fat and refined carbohydrates including sugar. Shop bought foods such as crisps, nuts, sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, pastries and super sized mince pies and chocolates are all high in calories.

Large meals consisting of several courses served with alcohol cause the calories to stack up.

Drinking alcohol without food can lead to excess energy intake. Alcoholic drinks are considered ‘empty calories’ because they do not contain significant amount of other nutrients.

Irregular meal times can play havoc with your energy intake over Christmas and the New Year. Eating late, and skipping breakfast can lead to catch up eating later in the day on higher calorie foods.

How to avoid the calories

The best options at buffets are small finger sandwiches with thin slices of ham, turkey to chicken; crudités with a salsa dip, sushi rolls and any salads.

Avoid arriving at a party feeling hungry. Have a light snack beforehand so that you are not tempted to fill up on high calorie food. A little smoked salmon on rye crackers with cucumber is a great snack or some soup and a roll. A smoothie made from fresh fruit, a glass of Oat Drink and some nuts will stave off the hunger pangs and provide a nutritious platform to keep you going.

Try to keep to eating three main meals a day and include lots of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Oranges, lemons, Sharon fruit and pomegranates are at their best at the moment. Brussel sprouts are no longer as bitter as they used to be and can be tasty stir fried or steamed with other ingredients. Other green veg to look out for are kale which can be sautéed with a little garlic, chilli, olive oil and white wine. Root vegetables such as celeriac, parsnips are great at this time of the year. Pile up your plate with veggies first and then add the meat and roast potatoes.

Alcohol contains calories too*

Here is a guide to the calorie content of common alcoholic drinks. In the UK adults drink 41% more over the Christmas period than the monthly average.

A standard glass (175 ml) of wine 126 kcal
A pint of beer 215 kcal
A glass (50ml) of cream liqueur 118 kcal
A double measure (50 ml) of fortified wine (sherry) 65 kcal

Keep exercising

The festive period tends to be busy but it is possible to fit in some regular exercise. An inexpensive activity tracker which can be worn as a bracelet is a motivating piece of kit. Walking to the shops with a shopping trolley rather than taking the car can use up excess calories. Aim for a daily 10,000 steps which equates to about five miles.


*Change4Life's Drinks Checker.

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