By Carla Centola, RD
The holiday season is almost in full swing and celebrations are not far behind. It is a beautiful time of year when pretty lights are everywhere and colourful treats too! But the excitement is often accompanied by stress.
This year’s holiday season will be different for many of us. Maybe fewer family and friends, less traveling or getaways, but we can still make the best of it and, of course, eat some tasty food!
Here are my suggestions to help you continue with your health and wellness goals while enjoying some tasty treats this holiday season.
1. Don’t Restrict! Instead, Balance Your Holiday Meals and Focus on Moderation.
When we restrict ourselves to certain foods or food groups (whether it’s for a holiday season or on a regular basis) we miss out on some important nutrients. For example, if you want to lose weight and choose only gluten-free treats, you may be put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies over time.
If not restricted by any health conditions, try to enjoy all food groups and focus on healthy portions, including dessert. However, instead of going “all out” and eating as much dessert as you can after your meal, have some with your meal.
You’ll be less likely to have cravings and overeat if you’re allowing yourself to include all types of foods. Plus, food is more than just nutrients – enjoy the cultural and community aspects of foods this season. As an Italian, I cannot imagine going too long without pasta, or, this time of year, tiramisu. What foods allow you to focus on your culture and community?
2. Be Consistent in Your Eating Habits to Keep Your Energy Levels Stable.
Sometimes people eat just sparingly during the day to save themselves for a big dinner meal. I find that troublesome for a few reasons:
Subscribing to diet culture. The pressure to get ready for a ‘near year, new me’ which is all around us whether in the news or social media can make us push our bodies instead of taking time to appreciate the myriad of things that our bodies do for us, day after day.
Skipping meals and then having one large meal at the end of the night can cause spikes and drops in the levels of blood sugar. If you want to maintain consistent energy levels and and a regular appetite through this holiday season, eat consistent meals. If you’re going out (covid restrictions in place!), it’s ok to enjoy the food, but there is no need to eat less during the day, or the next day in order to make up for the food you’re enjoying. Moderation, balance and consistency are going to help a lot more than irregular eating patterns and unstable hormones or blood sugar resulting from inconsistent meals. Balanced meals should be colourful: fruits, veggies but proteins and whole grains too!
3. Take Care of Yourself – Let’s Find Some Stress Relief Through Nutrition.
The key to managing stress is getting your body moving daily, ideally in fresh air, and filling up on those essential nutrients. Nutrients that are important for our immune system include vitamin C, A, B vitamins (especially B6 and B12), vitamin D, E, zinc and folate.
Eating a variety of foods and foods of different colours each day can help you meet your nutrient needs. Many of these nutrients that are essential for our immune system act as powerful antioxidants, helping our body clear free radicals, which can be damaging to our cells.
I see a lot of people using vitamin C supplements this time of year (and in fact all of 2020 because…well, COVID-19.) However, it’s easy to get enough vitamin C through diet by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I often suggest limiting intake of vitamin C supplements, because high doses for long periods of time, can increase the risk of kidney stones and other complications. Remember, food first!
4. Snack Before Your Big Christmas Meals
It’s all about having fun and enjoying good food but try to not over-indulge. As the big dinner approaches, try to stay mindful of your hunger and have a snack beforehand.
Listen to your body’s hunger cues and focus on appropriate portions and serving sizes. For snacks, pair complex carbs, which have fiber and protein. By including protein at snacks and meals, you’ll be more likely to stay full and satisfied.
A healthy and nutritious snack is Greek yogurt (it has more protein than regular, thin yogurt) mixed with berries. Also, sliced apple with natural nut butter. The healthy fats in the nut butter will keep you full and satisfied, and they will provide you with energy during long periods if you plan to stay up late into the night. for example. Also, they are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.
5. Get those muscles moving and the blood pumping!
Movement is essential for life, holiday season or not.
Choose exercises that make you feel good and you can do regularly. Not everyone will go for the heavy weightlifting in the gym, or running half-marathons. Pick an enjoyable physical activity because that way you will be more likely to stick to it.
6. Keep the Water Flowing
Have you noticed that you have less energy when you’re dehydrated? It’s true: being properly hydrated helps combat fatigue. Some of us may be less inclined to drink water when the weather changes and the days become colder. If that’s the case, try some herbal tea, hot water with lemon or, why not, some homemade hot chocolate.
Another great light and nutritious meal idea: tofu and veggie scrambles: they’re quick to put together, full of fiber and protein, and they are a great way to start your morning.
7. Go Slow (or not at all) On the Alcohol
Excessive alcohol intake can put a lot of stress on our bodies, especially when we consume large quantities in small periods of time. Health Canada recommends spacing out your drinking, having at least one (or more) days of the week without any alcohol, and staying within your limits. Opt for other fun drinks, like mocktails, or various types of hot chocolate this holiday season.
As for the serving guidelines, here they are. In Canada, a standard drink is 17 milliliters or 13.45 grams of pure alcohol. This is the equivalent of:
- a bottle of beer (12 oz., 341 ml, 5% alcohol), or
- a bottle of cider (12 oz., 341 ml, 5% alcohol), or
- a glass of wine (5 oz., 142 ml, 12% alcohol), or
- a shot glass of spirits (1.5 oz., 43 ml, 40% alcohol)
Need more ideas? Here are some extra resources:
Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy the holidays!