24 Dec 2017 5 Tips That Will Revolutionise Your Approach To Christmas Food
The way we tend to think about Christmas food is pretty static: we stick to the same traditions; we use it as an excuse to over-indulge, and we push any thoughts about healthy eating (or nutritional content) to the very backs of our minds. We resign ourselves to the idea that we will inevitably gain a few pounds over Christmas, and then when January comes around, we panic over whether we’ll ever lose them.
A lot of the problem is our approach – we condemn Christmas food and drinks as being inherently unhealthy; as a result, the general attitude to Christmas food is very negative. It’s time to switch up these outdated ideas, and start thinking positively about Christmas food, and about ourselves!
A few very simple changes will make all the difference to how you think about food over Christmas, which in turn will have an impact on your health. Here are my five tips that could turn your attitude to Christmas food around:
Simple swaps – you are in control of your food
By swapping particular foods or cooking methods for healthier alternatives, you can very easily control the nutritional value of a meal – you are in charge of what you are eating, and small changes could make a big difference.
A good example of this would be swapping the traditional sausage meat stuffing for a veggie stuffing – a veggie stuffing can include fantastic wholesome flavours, such as apricot, oats, apple or nuts, which also contain a greater variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Another healthy swap could be steaming your classic Christmas vegetables like brussels sprouts, or carrots and parsnips, rather than roasting them or cooking them in butter. Steaming better preserves all the healthy compounds they contain, such as vitamins C and K.
Additionally, swapping out some (or all!) of the white potatoes with sweet potatoes gives the added benefits of the more nutritious sweet potato, as well as their lovely flavour! Perhaps one of the least healthy Christmas foods is brandy butter – it is entirely alcohol and fat – swapping it for a low-fat cream or yogurt (coconut yogurt, in particular, is fantastic) is a very simple way to make your Christmas desserts a whole lot healthier.
Watch how you booze
We tend to think about alcohol in a binary – you either do drink or you don’t. But this approach allows us to slip into unhealthy habits. You can, of course, enjoy a tipple over Christmas – rather than trying to cut alcohol out, pay attention to what you drink and how you drink it! Alcohol is already pretty calorific, so it’s a good idea to avoid the creamy Bailey’s, and try and stick to lower calorie drinks, or red wine, which contains antioxidants, and has been linked to heart health.
Pay attention to when you drink as well – starting earlier makes it easier to drink more, as well as eat more, as the booze starts to diminish judgement levels. My advice would be to alternate each glass of something alcoholic with a glass of water, keeping you hydrated and making it harder to have too much all at once.
Consider your snacks
Plenty of healthy Christmas advice will suggest you ‘stop grazing’, but given the wealth of snacks and nibbles on offer over the Christmas period, this is something of an unrealistic approach. If you can’t resist the apparently never-ending array of snacks that seem to materialize with increasing frequency from as it gets closer to midday on the 25th December (and who could blame you!) try and pick your snacks carefully.
When it comes to choosing from the snacks and canapes that are on offer, I have two criteria. Firstly, is it sustaining? And secondly, does it have any nutritional value? If the nibbles contain little in the way of complex carbohydrates or protein, chances are they won’t keep you feeling full, and you’ll be reaching for more snacks in no time. For example, a canapé with smoked salmon or prawns, or crudités with hummus, are a much better option than breadsticks or cheesy puffs. Trying to stick to things that also contain a bit of fruit or veg will also help you to avoid empty calories. If you’re paying close attention to what’s in your snacks, then nibble away!
Protein is key
Psychologically, we respond much better to the idea of taking something up than giving something up – so rather than counting calories or carbs, a better way to mediate the amount you eat is to make sure you get enough protein. Protein helps you to feel full, and to stay feeling full, particularly when eaten with enough fibre. When we feel satisfied, we’re much less likely to overeat or snack heavily or go for foods that are rich in fat or sugar – much better for your health in the long run.
Remember that protein can be found in many foods, as well as meat and fish, including eggs, grains and pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. If your concern about eating healthily over Christmas is trying not to overindulge, protein is your friend!
Healthy Christmas favourites
Finally, remember that many Christmas foods are already healthy! We’ve been led to believe that Christmas food is fundamentally bad for us, but there is no need to approach Christmas food so negatively.
Think about what it is you are eating – turkey is a lean meat, and high in protein; all the Christmas veg – including brussels sprouts and root vegetables – contain plenty of vitamins; and seasonal Christmas fruit like satsumas, cranberries and dried fruit are rich in antioxidants and immunity-boosting vitamin C. On top of this, Christmas leftovers can easily be made into healthy curries, stews, soups and salads.
Don’t underestimate the impact that a positive attitude can have! Our minds are surprisingly powerful and if we stop thinking about Christmas food as always being bad for us, it will make it easier to make small changes that could have a real difference to our health in the long term. Happy Holidays!