Your festive season survival guide

How to remain happy and healthy this Christmas

Christmas is a time when we all let our hair down a little and perhaps enjoy a few more mince pies and sherries than we normally would. Festive fare tends to be a bit heavy on the sugar and fat though, and can leave our digestive systems feeling quite unsettled. As a result, problems like indigestion, constipation and acid reflux can be an unwelcome addition to the Christmas party season.

“There are many reasons why so many people experience digestive problems at Christmas,” says Karen Newby, nutritional therapist and founder of www.alchemysuperblends.com. “But mainly it’s because we consume so much more – an average of 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone! Generally more meat is consumed, which takes more energy to break down than carbohydrates. If we’re not chewing it well, or eating too quickly, it might not be broken as effectively and can arrive at the gut partially digested causing bad bacteria to grow on it.

“Also, it’s important to keep an eye on your alcohol intake this Christmas. Consuming more alcohol gives our livers more work to do. Amongst hundreds of other roles, the liver is also in charge of fat digestion, so if you’re starting to feel a little nauseous after eating fatty foods then it may be time to cut back on the eggnog!”

‘Tis the season to overindulge

So how can we avoid Christmas over-indulgence without seeming unsociable?

“Our body has a few different ways of detecting that we are ‘full’ and receptors in our stomach can sense bulk, which is particularly affected by fibre,” explains Gemma Hurditch, a naturopath who lectures at CNM, the College of Naturopathic Medicine, (www.naturopathy-uk.com). “So adding more fibre to our diet can help ensure increased satiety and boost our willpower in the face of Christmas temptations. Food no longer tastes as delicious and we are less likely to over-indulge when we have a tummy full of nutrients and fibre. Increase both by increasing vegetable intake in the weeks approaching Christmas. Ideally we want to be getting about 10 servings per day – that’s double the current five-a-day guidelines! Increasing each week makes it a more manageable goal.”

Karen Newby recommends preparing well in order to avoid digestive problems. “It can be as simple as having a protein-rich snack before you go out so that you don’t overeat,” she says. “Or try drinking some water beforehand so that you don’t drink alcohol because you’re thirsty. Mainly, just be mindful of what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. Aiming for the crudités and protein over the beige food at the buffet can be all it takes to keep you feeling festive right up until Christmas day!”

Support your liver during the festive season

“Especially at this time of year, your liver often has questionable diets, changes in body weight, dwindling activity levels and excess alcohol to contend with,” says Emma Ross, nutritionist and women’s health advisor with A.Vogel (www.avogel.co.uk). “So, during this time, we often need to support this important organ more than ever! Try these top tips:

  • Eat fresh – Despite all the sweet treats on offer during this time, when it comes to your main meals especially, try and ensure you are eating from fresh – colourful fruit and vegetables are especially rich in antioxidants, ideal for supporting your liver.
  • Drink more water – Water keeps you hydrated and helps flush toxins through your system, so aim to drink 1-2 litres daily.
  • Avoid toxin overload – Toxins come in many forms, from alcohol to medication, to polluted air. Keep alcohol within sensible limits, avoid popping pills unnecessarily, such as painkillers, and get outside for some fresh winter air wherever possible!
  • Support your liver with herbs – Bitter herbs such as artichoke and dandelion are especially nourishing for the liver, alongside some milk thistle. This is ideal if you’ve overindulged!

Christmas dinner swaps

If you want to put a healthy spin on the traditional Christmas dinner whilst still indulging in a delicious feast, then try these top expert tips:

Roasted potatoes
“Potatoes are classed as root vegetables but they don’t count towards your five-a-day as they are mainly a source of starch,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns. “With this food you are taking in a whole heap of calories with not many nutritional benefits. Try roasted parsnips instead. Parsnip is a starchy vegetable, however it still counts towards your five-a-day because it’s a source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate and potassium.”

Gravy
“Avoid stock cubes and ready-made stocks as they are usually rich in salt and flavourings,” says Michela Vagnini, nutritionist at Natures Plus (www.naturesplus.co.uk). “You can make healthier gravy by using a fresh homemade meat or vegetable stock. You can then add mushrooms, which gives it that woody and hearty taste that many of us love in gravy.”

Bread sauce
Bread sauce is a popular addition to the traditional Christmas dinner but as it’s made from butter, cream, milk and sometimes even roasting fat, it can be a bit heavy. “If you like to make bread sauce yourself and want a healthier choice, swap milk and cream for oat milk,” says Michela. “This would retain a nice flavour but with less calories and would be easier to digest. Also you can find good gluten free breadcrumbs if you are sensitive to gluten or suffer from IBS.”

Christmas pudding
“This dessert can be a seriously calorific finale to your festive meal, full of sugars and fats, so where possible limit your portion to a small one,” says Michela. “If you have the time and want to make your own Christmas pudding you can make it healthier by not adding any extra sugar, as natural sugars come from the dried currants and raisins. Instead of candied peels use zest and fresh orange and lemon juice. Swap butter or lard with coconut butter and for extra flavour use the likes of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.”

Tackle festive stress

The stress of preparing for Christmas, along with alcohol and sugary foods, can have a negative effect on our gut flora. Support your digestive system by eating probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir. Or, look for a probiotic supplement from your local independent health food store.

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