December Nutrition Tips: How to keep calm and party on | Mindful Chef

Fitness

The season of tucking into turkey-with-all-the-trimmings is here! And yes, mince pies, mulled wine and merriment are definitely on the menu. To help us navigate the festivities, Dietician Clare is stepping up to the plate this month to share her top tips on helping you maintain balance as you enjoy yourself!

Dietician Clare Gray shared her December nutrition tips

TIP 1: BALANCE IS BEST

What is balanced eating? In my practice I talk about the importance of balanced eating, but what does that actually mean? It’s a term we hear a lot in health and wellness. But it’s so much more than what makes up our diets.

Food choices can be tricky during Christmas. Skipping meals, binging and restricting, eating past comfortable fullness, anxiety around what you’re “allowed” to eat and imposing food rules are common with so many delicious seasonal delights around. And unfortunately, this is often followed by fad diets, cleanses and detoxes in the new year which are both unsustainable but also detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing.

But we also need to consider societal, emotional and cultural factors when it comes to achieving a balanced diet – after all, food is more complex than simply meeting our nutrient needs.  

Sirloin medallion steak, salsa verde & chestnuts

Let’s start with what’s on our plates:

We should all try to include…

  • Plenty of fruit and veg – the more colour and variety the better!
  • Whole grains (like brown rice and oats)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids which you’ll find in oily fish and plant-based food like chia seeds, walnuts and edamame
  • Polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds  
  • High quality protein: meat, fish, beans, pulses, tofu and tempeh are a great place to start.

And try to limit…

  • Sugary foods, confectionery and sugary beverages
  • Processed foods
  • Alcohol.

TIP 2: PRACTICE MINDFUL DRINKING

Clare’s winter fruit punch

The mulled wine, champagne and bucks fizz are flowing. Before we top up our glasses, try these 5 tips for mindful drinking. And don’t miss the link to my yummy, alcohol-free winter punch recipe. Cheers!

Alcohol is a toxin that our liver removes from our body. It’s also a source of energy – but unlike eating the equivalent amount of energy in the form of a meal, you get no sense of fullness from your alcoholic drinks. It can even stimulate your appetite!

The current guidance around alcohol intake is to have no more than 14 units per week. One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol. A pint of beer is typically two units and a 250ml glass of wine can be up to 3.5 units.

Clare’s 5 tips for mindful drinking…

  1. Don’t use your alcoholic drink to quench your thirst – instead, sip it slowly and savour the taste (having a glass of water handy helps)
  2. Try to drink alcohol with a meal, and don’t drink on an empty stomach
  3. At parties alternate between your alcoholic drink and a soft drink
  4. Aim for at least 3 alcohol-free days a week and spread your units over the other days
  5. Try alcohol-free, sugar-free alternatives 

Make Clare’s winter fruit punch.

TIP 3: BAN THE NAUGHTY OR NICE MINDSET

Christmas turkey with sprouts and cranberry sauce

We often label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and it can be trickier than usual to have a healthy mindset at this time of the year. When it comes to Christmas, can we eat whatever we want? Should we do more exercise to burn off extra calories? Or maybe skip meals before parties to make up for any “indulgence”? 

Clare’s 3 tips for a mindful mindset…

  1. Eat regularly and at your usual meal times

When we’re hungry, we tend to make poorer food choices, craving food higher in fat and sugar. So aim for three balanced meals a day, that are satisfying, give you energy and leave you feeling well. And don’t skip meals to compensate for indulgences. 

  1. Remove food rules and eat foods you love

Labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can lead to feelings of guilt or shame around food. Rather than restrict ‘bad’ foods, think more about how eating these foods makes you feel. Generally, foods that are sugary or rich make us feel nauseous when eating in large quantities, which lessens our enjoyment from them. But it’s a catch-22, as we tend to eat richer sugary food in large quantities. This is because we view them as something we shouldn’t eat, so once we start we can feel as though we’ve fallen off the bandwagon. 

Instead, enjoy these foods in moderate quantities as part of a balanced satisfying meal. 

  1. Don’t use exercise to compensate for what you’re eating

I highly recommend moving your body and doing the exercise you enjoy during the festive season, it has huge benefits for our mental and physical wellbeing. 

But using exercise to compensate for what you’re choosing to eat or drink is not a good idea. 

Despite the countless social media posts during this time of year telling us how many burpees we need to do to burn off our Christmas dinner, it’s important to understand that the impact of eating a few more high energy meals and snacks during this period is unlikely to pose any drastic change to our health and fitness. Also framing exercise as something that needs to be done so you are allowed to eat rather than something enjoyable in its own right, independent from your dietary intake can have further detrimental effects.

TIP 4: LOAD YOUR PLATES WITH SEASONAL GOODNESS

Chef’s Jame’s Christmas leftover bubble & squeak

We all know the importance of seasonal eating (if you missed it, check out November’s nutrition blog for more). And brilliantly through the festive season, there’s an abundance of delicious nutrient-dense food we can all enjoy that’s super seasonal and super-good-for-you. 

Try adding these seasonal highlights to your Christmas plates…

  • British Brussel sprouts

Hate them or love them, these Christmas staples are high in folate, fibre and vitamins C and K. Not a fan of traditional sprouts? Try roasting them with garlic and chilli, or make a slaw by finely slicing them and sauteing them with shallots.

  • British carrots and parsnips. 

These roots are a match made in heaven, chuck in seasonal chestnuts and roast with a light drizzle of honey, thyme and a squeeze of clementine juice. Carrots bring Vitamin A (important for cell growth and immunity), while parsnips are a good source of folate, helping to keep our blood cells healthy.

  • British kale. 

This winter green is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. While also being high in vitamin C, K, A, folic acid & fibre (good for gut health too!). Bake it until crisp and serve up alongside your turkey, or add shredded kale to Chef James leftover bubble and squeak. 

  • Nuts.

Hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds are some of the delicious nuts in season at this time of year. High in fibre and rich in beneficial mono and polyunsaturated fats. They’re delicious toasted in the oven, drizzled with olive oil, salt and chopped rosemary. For a sweeter alternative serve with fresh dates and drizzle with dark chocolate

  • Clementines. 

This juicy vitamin-C rich citrus is perfect for snacking or adding to your Christmas day breakfast. Or give Terry a run for his money by dipping in dark chocolate and rolling in crushed nuts.  

Chocolate Clementines

Stay tuned in January, as Dietician Clare shares her top tips for a healthy start t the new year, as well as busting some diet myths along the way!


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