How to survive the Holiday Season
Generally we nutritionists are not fussed what people eat on a couple of special days a year. Festivities like Christmas, New Years, Easter and birthdays are always cause for celebration. However, in an increasingly commodified and commercialised world, there is usually a long lead up of gatherings, work functions and parties to the silly season that can be quite overwhelming.
It’s important to be mindful of what we are consuming during these periods with the abundance of foods with high fat and salt contents, often served with copious amounts of alcohol, to really get the most of out of this special time of the year with your family and friends.
It’s very common to indulge in a couple more glasses of wine than usual around Christmas and New Year’s compared to the rest of the year, but it is also something that can quickly get out of hand – causing more harm than intended.
So, remember for drinks, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommendation for average, healthy men and women is no more than two standard drinks on any one day, and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion. This also reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
If you know you will be drinking throughout the day or night a good tip is to have water or mineral water in between each of your alcoholic drinks. Alcohol over 4.5% is dehydrating, so also consider choosing one of the low-mid range beers on the market. The best way to check your hydration is by the colour of your first morning urine – it should be a hay colour.
The festive season is also smack-bang in the middle of summer’s warm weather where dehydration is far more prevalent. Remember in summer you may need to drink more fluids to counteract the dangerous effects of dehydration, due to water loss.
Image: : Australian Alcohol Drug Foundation
It is always a good idea to include some form of activity in your day – try a game of traditional backyard/beach cricket or sneak in a walk between functions during the day. Easy ways to incorporate exercise seamlessly into your normal routine include: walking to work when you can, taking public transport, utilising stairs when available, or go for lunch-time walks in the lead up to Christmas.
You can refer to the Department of Health’s exercise guidelines here – and remember it is all a matter of balance.
Being aware of your serving sizes throughout the holiday season is also a good tip for being more mindful during this time of the year. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE), which is an evidence-based resource derived from the analysis of over 50,000 journal articles, have many handy resources that breaks down the appropriate serving sizes for each food group.
When at holiday functions, it is wise to avoid fatty fried foods and pastries (e.g. pies, pasties, chips, arancini, chicken nuggets, and other fried meats) or keep your portions of these particular foods in moderation. Instead, actively go for fresh foods (e.g. cold rolls, sushi, fish, salads, vegetables, fruit) – or consider sharing a piece of the traditional Christmas Pavlova with a friend.
No one wants to get sick over the holiday period, so make sure you look after your food. Keep raw meats, and dishes containing them, away from cooked meats. Keep food cool and chilled until you need it. Be mindful how long it is kept out.
Image: SA Health, Government of South Australia
Remember the two and four rule. If food is kept out of fridge for less than two hours, it can go back in fridge and be eaten later. Food can be out of the fridge for up to four hours and okay to eat, but after four hours you need to throw it out – which brings up the big problem about food waste.
Waste and Leftovers
Leftovers are always a big part Christmas and large celebrations, however it is good to keep in mind the amount of waste you are producing so you can minimise the negative impacts on the environment and the heavy burden of food waste.
Minimise food wasted by thinking carefully about the amount of food you actually need over Christmas. Check out this portion calculator that takes all the guess work out whether you are catering for individuals or crowds.
Christmas is about enjoying time with your loved ones, so enjoy your favourite foods and drinks with family, but just ensure there are healthy alternatives on offer. Think great salads and colourful fruit platters – with my favourite cherries which we are blessed to have here in Australia – they perfectly complement any dessert on Christmas Day.