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How to enjoy Christmas without piling on the pounds!
The average Irish person will gain up to half a stone over the festive period as the temptation of never ending chocolates, mince pies and savoury snacks get the better of them! This isn’t surprising considering that on average we consume more than 4,000 calories on Christmas Day alone – twice the recommended daily allowance for women and almost as much for men. Add in all the extra calories consumed at work parties and at family gatherings and what you get is bad news for your waistline.
Weight Gain Is Easily Done
It only takes a few hundred extra calories eaten here and there over a typical day to gradually build up and trigger a gain in weight. It takes just 3,500 extra calories to put on one pound in weight which is easily done. You can have that slice of Christmas Cake though – it’s just about portion control and calories awareness.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a savvy food guide that will help you make healthier food choices and emerge from the season minus the excess pounds we so often pile on during December.
Seasonal Treats – What’s The Damage?
The table below will give you an idea just how many calories are contained in your favourite Christmas treats, so, you might think twice before reaching for that second mince pie:
|Mince Pie||One, 60g||190|
|Christmas Cake||1 slice 70g||250|
|Crisps||1 small packet 30g||170|
|Mulled Wine||1 glass||250|
|Christmas Pud & Cream||1 portion||570|
|Sausage Rolls||2 small||254|
|Assorted Chocs||6 chocolates||270|
Christmas Foods: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Not all Christmas foods are bad for us, in fact some are highly nutritious. By focusing on the good elements and limiting the bad ones, you can minimise the damage without feeling deprived;
Turkey – a good source of protein, tryptophan, zinc & B vitamins
Sprouts – loaded with cancer fighting anti-oxidants
Cranberries – rich in vitamin C so can help boost immunity and make our skin glow.
Crackling – crackling and poultry skin are much higher in fat than the meat itself.
Stuffing – laden with sausage meat, yeast & butter.
Christmas pudding, cake & mince pies – loaded with fat, calories and sugar.
Soft Drinks – contain 6 teaspoons of sugar per glass and full of empty calories
Brandy butter – avoid at all costs, try custard instead
Gorging – stop eating when you are comfortably full, not stuffed!
Healthy Christmas Cooking Tips!
- Use low-fat cream or custard with dessert
- Mash your potatoes with milk instead of butter or cream.
- Trim visible fat from around the ham before cooking it
- Remove the skin from chicken and turkey
- Cut potatoes for roasting into large pieces and parboil them first. This reduces the surface area for fat absorption.
- Use olive oil instead of butter or goose fat for roasting potatoes.
- Raw vegetable crudités with dips such as hummus or salsa are a good alternative to fat & salt laded crisps and canapés
- Fill at least half you dinner plate with vegetables.
- Make your own low sugar cranberry sauce
- Have melon as a starter or a light vegetable based soup.
Wholemeal Pitta Filled with Houmous, Roasted Red Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes & Rocket Leaves
This is one of my favourite lunches because it’s ridiculously tasty and can be made up in two minutes flat. I’m not a fan of stodgy sandwiches for lunch but this little number leaves you full and satisfied without feeling bloated. It’s also full of vitamins and fibre and all the vibrant colours brighten up my day It clocks in at around 350 calories which is pretty good for a sandwich!
1 wholemeal pitta pocket
2 tbsp houmous
Roasted Sweet Red Pepper, sliced (I use ones from a jar)
2-3 cherry tomatoes, sliced
A handful of mixed leaves
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar (optional)
Slice your pitta bread in half and spread with houmous. Top with roasted peppers, tomatoes and mixed leaves. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar or lemon juice over the leaves and fold over. Devour and let your taste buds do a happy dance
You know by now that there is a direct link between your mood and your eating behaviour. So, if you’re feeling a bit stressed or low, you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy comfort foods like cake or biscuits to try and make yourself feel better. You also probably know that such foods will make you temporarily feel better while you’re eating them but you’re likely to feel worse soon after.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can switch things around to your advantage. Yes, your mood affects your choice of food, but, did you know that your choice of food also affects your mood?
What if I told you that by eating certain foods, you could not only improve your mood but also build your bodies resistance to stress and feel more energetic, alert and motivated? Sound good?
The key to understanding the connection between the food we eat and our mood lies in understanding a little about how the brain functions. The brain communicates by chemical substances (neurotransmitters) passed from one nerve cell to the next. Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids obtained from the protein in food you consume.
One of the neurotransmitters that is most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting mood is serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’. Our bodies produce serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan which comes directly from food. So, it makes sense that we need to eat certain foods to create such essential neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is a calming and relaxing chemical. When produced in the right amounts, feelings of stress and tension decrease, and our sleep cycle is regulated. If our serotonin levels are low, we are likely to experience low mood, irritability, anxiety, apathy and poor sleep.
A Serotonin deficiency can be brought on by many factors including hormonal fluctuations, stress, imbalanced blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies. So, you can see how important eating the right nutrients is to managing your mood and anxiety levels.
Diet plays a crucial role in assisting our bodies to handle the stresses of modern life. Prolonged stress literally drains and depletes vitamins and minerals from our bodies which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and leave us open to low mood and anxiety.
The good news is that there is plenty you can do to boost your mood naturally and build your bodies resistance to stress. Addressing your diet is a great place to start. Whether you only feel blue from time to time or are prone to low mood or anxiety, eating a diet high in ‘good mood foods’ and low in ‘ mood zapping foods’ can go a long way to balancing how you feel both physically, mentally and emotionally. Of course exercise, good sleep and stress management all play crucial roles too.
Below are several steps you can take to boost your mood and build your bodies resistance to stress:
Choose slow release carbohydrates - Carbohydrates allow your brain to produce serotonin. Fast release carbohydrates will give you a quick serotonin boost but will also wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Slow release carbohydrates on the other hand (e.g. oats, brown rice, legumes and vegetables) will encourage slow and steady serotonin production without the blood sugar highs and lows.
Get your B Vitamins - B vitamins play a crucial role in the production of serotonin. Prolonged stress or anxiety can easily deplete our body stores of these vitamins leaving us open to low mood and anxiety so it’s important that we consume foods rich in B vitamins on a daily basis. Slow release carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, legumes and vegetables are excellent sources of B vitamins and magnesium both of which enhance serotonin production and support the body during times of stress.
Boost your Omega 3 intake - Omega 3 fatty acids naturally increase a potent mood lifting, anti-depressant neurotransmitter in our brain, called dopamine. Omega-3 fatty acids are also hypothesized to affect the functionality of serotonin in the brain by slowing its breakdown. People with low serotonin levels commonly have low DHA levels, which is an essential building block in the brain, and which needs to be replenished with foods such as oily fish which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Boost your omega 3 intake by regularly consuming the following foods: Oily Fish - such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, kipper, herring and tuna. Nuts & Seeds – especially walnuts, flaxseed, hemp and chia seeds.
Ensure adequate Vitamin D - The connection between Vitamin D deficiency and low mood is well established. Very few of us living in the northern hemisphere get enough sunlight for our bodies to make adequate vitamin D (which is made in the skin directly), or eat enough vitamin D in our diets and this is known to be a critical factor in mood disorders. I would encourage you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months and consistently eat vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, green leafy vegetables and oily fish.
Increasing your exposure to daylight also helps. Try to get at least 30 minutes day light every day. Doing some exercise outdoors is ideal as both daylight and exercise are known to boost serotonin levels.
Limit Stimulants - A diet high in stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol can cause sugar highs and sugar lows which in turn affects our mood. Excess caffeine, sugar or alcohol consumption can also rev up stress hormones in the body and deplete our body of crucial B vitamins and magnesium. So, the first step in balancing mood is to balance your blood sugar by reducing your intake of stimulants
Good Mood Foods:
- Cottage Cheese
- Brown Rice
- Oily Fish
- Green Leafy Vegetables
Sample ‘Good Mood’ diet, sample menu
Breakfast: Poached eggs on a slice of rye toast
Snack: Handful of nuts with a piece of fruit
Lunch: Tuna, chick pea & rocket salad
Snack: Cottage Cheese with blueberries
Dinner: Stir fried turkey & veggie stir fry served with brown rice