Christmas: excess fat, alcohol and weight gain

increase in weight

The secret to avoid excess and maintain good health is moderation, as well as the need to compensate in the next meal for the excess ingested in the previous meal.

Achieving this can be easier than you think if you follow certain nutritional advice: eat vegetables and fruits, chew slowly, drink sensibly (know your limits), do not skip any meals, prioritize fish and poultry, moderate your consumption of salt, drink plenty of water, avoid processed foods and exercise regularly…

Tania Mesa – Nutritionist and Nurse from Neolife

Enjoying a good meal and taking care of our health at Christmas is possible if you follow a series of nutritional guidelines.

During this period food becomes a principal part of our reunions and so it is important that you keep in mind the nutritional advice below to help you approach Christmas mealtimes in a healthy way. The celebration of Christmas is often associated with eating large quantities of food and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Furthermore, traditional festive foods are rich in salt and fat much like traditional sweet foodstuffs often consumed at this time of year. Consequently it is common for their consumption to cause weight gain.

Watching your figure and avoiding temptation is not always easy though. Notwithstanding the above there have been a number of different studies that have related Christmas with a health concern due to the subsequent side effects the event has on our health. However, at Neolife we believe that it is possible to enjoy the celebrations without eating or drinking to excess and take steps to maintain our health. The secret is moderation, as well as awareness of the need to compensate in the next meal for the excess ingested in the previous meal. Achieving this is much easier than you may think.

foods that we should not eat

  • Reduce the crucial days of Christmas to 5 or 6 at most. Do not lengthen the celebration – traditional celebrations take place from mid-November until Three Kings Day (also known as Epiphany). Be selective and on non-holiday days return to a suitable food routine.
  • Create a balance between meals and dinners. During Christmas, almost all reunions, dinners and parties take place at night, so we know in advance that we will eat most of our food at this time of day. The ideal to aim for is to balance your calorie intake throughout the day and opt for a well-balanced breakfast, followed by a light lunch (non-fatty/skimmed broth without noodles, salad, sushi, fish or baked chicken and vegetables) with a fruit or yoghurt snack. As a result you will feel less hungry when the event takes place and have a little more freedom to eat at night, although you must remember the key is moderation.
  • Do not skip any meals. Skipping breakfast is a mistake: 4 meals should be eaten, and if possible, 5 meals a day is better. Compensating for a previous fast by eating to excess in the next meal will only result in increased hunger at the wrong time and eating more of the foodstuffs you should not eat. This is because prolonged fasting reduces blood sugar levels and leads to an increase in endogenous production of insulin, which results in increased appetite and absorption as well as a faster carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Plan your shopping list and menus in advance: do not keep leftovers in your house throughout January.
  • Select foodstuffs that offer the best possible quality guarantee and avoid potential food poisoning.
  • Do not eat excessively: eat everything but in small quantities. The key is to not overdo any single food category, avoid “picking at food” whilst cooking, eat slowly and comfortably (the signal from the stomach relating to satiety takes about 20 minutes to be received by the brain) and chew all food properly.
  • The dishes should be prepared with balanced portions in mind and include vegetables, salads and a wide variety of colors and flavors (chicory, pomegranate, nuts/dried fruits, orange). Remember presentation is also important. You should also remove appetizers, or if you do not want to give up on canapés entirely, try skewers of cherry tomatoes with burgos cheese, pineapple with cheese, ham with melon, grilled vegetables with prawns, small portions of cod with oil and orange juice, salmorejo, mushrooms with caramelized onions etc. You must remember to modify the recipes that you are going to prepare, replace cream and butter with light or semi-skimmed alternatives.
  • For the first course, opt for vegetables, preferably seasonal vegetables suited to this time of year, such as red cabbage or artichoke thistle. They can be placed in the oven instead of sautéed with béchamel or fried.
  • In the second course, you should try to serve fish: your heart and your arteries will benefit from the polyunsaturated fatty acids contained in the fish.
  • Seafood, low in calories, helps us enjoy large meals without increasing in size. It is the star ingredient in many Christmas menus and, as long as the pocket allows for it, seafood can be the first course in your meal as well. For example, prawns possess an excellent nutritional value, given their protein, mineral and vitamin content, which provides very clear benefits to your health. Nevertheless, we must be careful to avoid excessive consumption of seafood during these meals: you should not over indulge on seafood, since seafood contains uric acid, which if concentrated in the joints can produce pain and cause the dreaded “gout attack”.
  • We recommend all types of fish, both white and oily (‘blue’ fishes) as their proteins are similar to those which can be found in meat, but contain less fat and calories.
  • The most widely recommended meats to include in your meal are poultry (chicken or turkey), as well as rabbit, ostrich or lean beef. Priority should be given to lean pieces of meat (those with a whiter color) and in any event you should endeavor to remove any visible fat, as well as the skin from poultry prior to cooking. You must avoid intense red or very fatty meats like duck, suckling pig, lamb, sausages or cold meats – by doing so you can avoid excess saturated fats and unwanted cholesterol.
  • Steam, oven and griddle are the healthiest cooking methods you can use. You should avoid battered or fried foods wherever possible.
  • Avoid sauces that are rich in fat and sugars. We recommend that you season your dishes with herbs and spices (dill, lemon, garlic, onion), vinaigrettes, light mayonnaise (very small quantities), yoghurt sauce or raw oil (olive residue) with lemon. By doing this the dishes will be lighter.
  • We recommend vegetable-based fats, particularly olive oil. We do not recommend animal or saturated (solid) fats from lard or deli meat, creams, pates or fatty cheeses.
  • Moderate salt intake.
  • Your intake of fiber should be consistent during this period, eating whole wheat bread, vegetables, pulses and fruits, since they help provide satiety.
  • As for desserts, you should opt for homemade pastries. Homemade biscuits with nuts and apple are delicious and fun to make with your children or your partner; even traditional Three Kings cake can easily be made with a processor. Also you should choose fruit-based desserts: fruit salads, fruit skewers or gelatin based light yoghurt with red fruits. Pineapple and papaya are low-sugar fruits that also have a diuretic effect that can be very beneficial to your health. We also know that the intake of probiotic yoghurt facilitates digestion and reduces swelling and digestive discomfort.
  • Consume Christmas sweets in moderation: nougat, marzipan, peanut brittle, Spanish shortbread pastries (mantecados)…are all processed products which contain a large amount of energy in the form of fats and sugars. These can be replaced by sweets which contain a considerable proportion of nuts, such as nougat, with a minimum percentage of 60% almonds, nuts or dried fruits (such as prunes or dried apricots). It is also preferable to choose chocolate and sweets with a higher percentage of cocoa, which is known to provide less calories than chocolate nougat.
  • It is neither necessary nor justified to choose foods that are free from sugar or intended for diabetics only: they are more expensive and do not provide any significant health benefits.
  • Substitute sugar for Stevia or brown sugar.
  • Try not to leave the food on the table once everyone has finished. This causes us to continue eating despite not being genuinely hungry.
  • Drink 1.5 to 2 liters of water and fruit juices per day, outside of meals. In addition to purifying our body and eliminating toxins this will help us feel satisfied and prevent us from eating between meals. Prepare fruit infusions (apple, cinnamon, peach, strawberry) as this will enable you to drink more.
  • Replace coffee during the meals with fruit infused drinks as these will facilitate digestion and avoid unwanted flatulence, like chamomile, mint, anise or green tea.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Try to drink from smaller cups and avoid alcohol beverages with a high alcohol content (ABV). The main meals can be accompanied by one or two glasses of a good wine or cava to facilitate digestion and this should be enough to satisfy all but the most demanding palates. Remember that cocktails (particularly sweet-mixes, which mix several liquors with creams and juices) are loaded with sugar and unnecessary calories. It is useful to remember that after drinking alcohol you must drink plenty of water before going to sleep. This is important as it facilitates the purification of any alcohol present in the blood and, above all, accelerates the elimination of the neurotoxic metabolite, acetaldehyde, responsible for most of the effects of the “hangover”.
  • On these dates it is also normal practice to consume many more soft drinks than usual, which is usually reflected immediately in our weight and a swelling of our belly.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing after lunch and wait at least two hours before going to bed if you have consumed a large evening meal to facilitate digestion and avoid problems associated with reflux.
  • Follow our exercise routine, if you have access to the routine, this should be used to control your weight during Christmas as it can also be used to combat stress that is often associated with this time of year. You can increase your daily physical activity by walking a little more; use the car less, climb stairs etc. You must not forget that physical activity helps improve digestion. Another good alternative is to dance.
  • Continue taking any prescribed medication and, if there are any doubts about how they may react with alcohol you must consult your doctor.
  • If after the holidays you discover you have gained weight, you should take steps to lose the weight in a healthy way and under medical supervision or with the help of a nutritionist. You should not fast or use miracle diets.

To conclude, we want to emphasize that your health does not take any vacations and that if you enjoy good food and take care of your health then you can enjoy Christmas just like you have before: there are no “good foods” or “bad foods”, but please remember to eat regularly and do not eat to excess.

From all of us here we wish you a “Happy and Prosperous new year 2016”, and remind you that the new year can be a good time to adopt new healthy habits: stop smoking, lose weight, increase the amount of physical exercise you undertake, start new lifestyle choices, control your cholesterol etc. We recommend you visit us: at the Neolife anti-ageing clinic you will receive professional advice, always from the perspective of Age Management Medicine.