Keep season’s ‘merry’ moderate to mild

The festive season may be a time to relax your mind and body, but certainly not your healthy eating habits.

FESTIVE FARE: Avoid the stress that affects your holiday fun by sticking to healthy eating goals while keeping plans flexible Picture:123rf.COM

Many people tend to either eat unhealthy food or over-indulge during December, with the end result being unnecessary weight gain.

Whether you will be spending this festive season at the office, luxuriating at a beach resort or relaxing at home – a group of dieticians give us the lowdown on how to beat the bulge while still having fun.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, to stay on track this festive season, one should remember to strike a balance between healthy meals versus the unhealthy ones; be aware of mindless eating where one eats simply because the food is available or out of boredom; maintain some part ofone’s usual routine from the year, such as a morning walk or a healthy breakfast; keep active and sip smarter by limiting the amount of sugary drinks, fruit juices and alcoholic beverages as they all contain extra kilojoules – which quickly add up.

Registered dietitians and spokespeople for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa Retha Booyens and Mbali Mapholi said it’s easy to take on an “everybody’s doing it, I can’t avoid it” approach over the festive season, which leads to a loss of balance and focus on personal goals.

“Yes, you’re relaxing on the beach with friends and the context is the holidays, but the packet of chips being offered around is just the same as any other time, so stick to your same reactions. If you’re not hungry, or if you would prefer a healthier snack, pass it on,” Mapholi said.

Booyens added: “You can avoid the stress that compromises your enjoyment of the holidays by sticking to your goals and plans in flexible and practical ways. Keep your portion sizes in check at every meal.”

Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa nutrition science manager Gabriel Eksteen stressed that one naughty day is not the biggest worry in the greater picture.

“What is more concerning is when the bad habits become more frequent over the holiday period. That said, going overboard on sugars, salty foods or alcohol can negatively impact blood sugar and blood pressure in individuals who already have diabetes or hypertension.”

To prepare a much healthier offering for Christmas lunch and also to avoid over-indulging on the day, Eksteen suggested two strategies.

The first is to incorporate healthier elements into meal preparation such as using plain yoghurt as a substitute for mayonnaise and using summer fruits as part of salads, dessert or to flavour water.

A healthy salad or vegetable dish should be on the table and dishes should be seasoned lightly with the use of herbs and spices for flavour instead of salt.

“Just because there are more options that usual, doesn’t mean you need to eat all of them. Pick the foods you will get enjoyment from and leave some others alone.

“Most desserts and many drinks contain hidden calories from sugars, fats and alcohol, so you may want to cut down on your portion of starchy foods, such as bread or potatoes.”

To reduce the calorie count in alcoholic beverages, Booyens suggested alcoholic options which are lower in sugar, such as drier wines, spirits with water or a sugar-free mix, or reduced-kilojoule beers or wines.

Ultimately, Booyens said it all comes down to choice.

“If you find yourself in Rome on a rare holiday with the chance to enjoy an Italian gelato alongside the Trevi Fountain – just go right ahead and enjoy it. But if the choice is about yet another third helping of mom’s peppermint crisp tart, you can probably skip that this time around.” —


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