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BLOG BY Emilia Fish, BSc

Keeping Happy & Healthy Over Christmas

Christmas is looking a little different this year, so here are some of our tips to make the most of the festive celebrations and embrace some changes.

It is a complex time of year

Christmas can be a complex and challenging time for many of us1, and stress around food can add to this. Stress has been shown to cause changes in healthy eating behaviours including changes in our diet and appetite2,3.  

To support moving our focus to behaviours which support health, independent of body size, you could try being curious about a Health At Every Size point of view4. Research has shown that we are able to improve our health through eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing movement and consuming alcohol in moderation, independent of weight loss5.

So maybe this Christmas…

• Enjoy the outdoors and movement, for example going on a festive walk with those in your bubble. Increasing your daily movement has been shown to have a positive effect on both our mental and physical health6,7. It is therefore recommended that adults should aim to achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week8.

• Try and not focus on weight as this can increase stress and remember health can be improved independent of your weight4.

• If drinking alcohol, try and consume in moderation. The recommendations for both men and women for safety is to not drink regularly more than 14 units of alcohol per week and to spread those units over the week9. Remember as well, there are plenty of alcohol alternatives you can have fun creating together, how about a fresh lime juice, mint, and soda water.

And remember, you do not have to do all of these or do them perfectly, it’s all about reducing judgement, reducing stress, and enjoying this time of the year.  

Food and nutrition for making festive foods at home

Cooking at home can make meals cheaper, it also means you know exactly the ingredients you are putting in, however we are under no illusion and know it can be tricky to find time to cook. So here are a few tips to make cooking during the festive season a little easier:

1. Make a plan. Plan the dishes you would like to enjoy over the festive season and make a shopping list. Look at what you have and what needs using up and try to stick to your list10.

2. Utilise the freezer. You can start preparing food days or weeks in advance and put in in the freezer ready for Christmas day11. Some of our freezer favourites are my mum’s Yorkshire puddings12, and swede with carrot mash; they freeze wonderfully!

3. There is no pressure to make the menu all from scratch. Buy frozen fruit and vegetables. A favourite of ours is to have in the freezer is prepared parsnips! Remember, frozen products are just as good for us11.

4. Get your household involved. Get baking with your bubble if it is something you enjoy. Allow plenty of time and try to be organised – make sure you have all the ingredients and equipment ready. Remember, a little mess is OK, and you are all there to help with the clean-up process too13!

5. Keep hydrated. It is important to listen to your body, if you feel thirsty, most likely you are thirsty. Another indication of hydration is the colour of our pee, a pale straw colour or clear indicates we are consuming enough fluid14. The Eatwell Guide recommended we should aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day, water, low fat milk and sugar-free drinks all count14,15! If drinking alcohol this may cause us to pass more urine than usual, so it is advised to alternate alcohol drinks with water or a sugar free fizzy drink and be mindful of the alcohol guidelines14.

Plant-based festive foods.

A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and nuts, and contains few to no animal products, so ranges from vegan to semi-vegetarians16. With the rising number of people becoming more plant-based in the UK increasing, and the number of people following a vegan dietary pattern quadrupling between 2014 and 201917, let’s have a look at some festive plant-based foods and cooking tips which we are loving:

• Plant-based protein ideas: Lentil roast and nut & currant stuffing. A 30g of dried fruit counts as one of your 5-a-day18!

• Roast potatoes. Everyone loves a good crispy roast potato, right? Try keeping the skin as they are a good source of fibre18. To ensure they stay crispy but without the traditional animal fat, you could parboil and then toss them in some semolina or just plain flour before roasting.

• Serve a selection of vegetables to help you meet your 5-a-day. If you are boiling, make sure to keep the water as it is full of the water-soluble vitamins from the vegetables, you could add this to your gravy if you are making your own18!

• Dessert ideas: dark chocolate pots or vegan fruit cake. Mince pies are such a classic and so delicious, you could try these with filo pastry for simplicity and to add extra crunch and serve with a portion of seasonal fruit to add to your 5-a-day18.

• The Vegan Society have some great tips of the type of products that can be found in the supermarkets19.

• Save the leftovers! Does anyone else sometimes prefer Boxing Day leftovers? Love Food Hate Waste has some great ideas of what we can do with leftovers here20.

Remember going plant-based includes reducing your animal product intake, so your Christmas does not have to be completely vegetarian, but maybe give some of these ideas a go if they sound tasty to you.

Do what we can

Food banks have been a massive support to so many people for many years, and even more so this year, in supporting those who cannot afford essentials in life21. With winter upon us and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a 61% increase in people in need of food parcels during October-December 2020 compared to last year22. So, if you can and it is safe, maybe consider volunteering at your local food bank over the festive period. You can find your local food bank details here23.

If you cannot volunteer, there are plenty of other ways you can get involved and help, for example donating any spare food supplies or goods to charities such as the Trussell Trust24, the One Can Trust25 or FoodCycle26 or donating to Crisis27.

There is absolutely no pressure, but if you can every little helps.

Resources

• British Dietetics Association. Cooking at Home13.

• London Centre For Intuitive Eating. Why Intuitive Eating and Non-Diet28?

• National Health Service. Water, drinks and your health29.

This year has been a tough year, so try and not put too much pressure on ourselves and let us try to enjoy the celebrations and get in the spirit of Christmas; make festive bakes, send festive wishes, watch a Christmas movie, and enjoy every moment we have. Remember Christmas is only 1 day out of the 365 days of the year.

This blog post was written by Emilia Fish, a Food Science and Nutrition graduate MSc Clinical and Public Health Nutrition student at UCL. She has interned as part of the Nutrition Rocks team, has experience in Food Science labs and enjoys sharing simple, evidence-based nutrition on @nutritionnourishment. Emilia has recently launched a second series of her podcast, The Nutrition Nourishment Podcast: Sharing Our Journeys.

References

References

(1) https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Christmas-and-Subjective-Well-Being%3A-a-Research-Mutz/9327633bb72a1db65c46f4c8adfc472c922cbed0

(2) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0228039

(3)   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11139006/

(4)   https://londoncentreforintuitiveeating.co.uk/just-eat-it

(5)   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22218619/

(6)  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512217308563casa_token=b_DGTEntiSkAAAAA:_zfjJjT_TQWy2PrWmI6IO5UXbWTuqfKrYZFF4fxw2DLC5qxPdSOZUdE4Bu1CTmYxtgj6u8i8vB4

(7) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12788

(8) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832868/uk-chief-medical-officers-physical-activity-guidelines.pdf

(9) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489795/summary.pdf

(10)https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/lets-get-cooking/cooking-at-home/cooking-on-a-budget/smart-supermarket-shopping.html

(11)https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/lets-get-cooking/cooking-at-home/cooking-on-a-budget/batch-cooking-and-freezing-food.html

(12)https://www.nutritionnourishment.com/recipes/mum's-yorkshire-puddings

(13)https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/lets-get-cooking/cooking-at-home.html

(14)https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fluid-water-drinks.html

(15)https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/

(16)https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/plant-based-diet.html#:~:text=Plant%2Dbased%20diets%20which%20are,and%20plenty%20of%20fibre%20too.

(17)https://beta.ukdataservice.ac.uk/datacatalogue/studies/study?id=7576

(18)https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/5-a-day-what-counts/

(19)https://www.vegansociety.com/news/blog/vegan-christmas-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-shelf-christmas

(20)https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/article/kitchen-creatives-christmas

(21)https://www.trusselltrust.org/coronavirus-food-banks/

(22)https://www.trusselltrust.org/heriot-watt-research-2020/

(23)https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/

(24)https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/ways-to-give/

(25)https://onecantrust.org.uk/

(26)https://www.foodcycle.org.uk/

(27)https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/donate-to-crisis-this-christmas/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=RAP20&utm_term=crisis%20charity&gclid=CjwKCAiAtej9BRAvEiwA0UAWXsd7K1LBOSbQQotADianFVQmbNPU_achr1JATKPzzZ1JpfApqVO7shoCtT4QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

(28)https://londoncentreforintuitiveeating.co.uk/why-intuitive-eating-non-diet

(29)https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/

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