How to stay healthy over Christmas
Nutritionist Kerry Torrens shares her secrets for staying healthy over the Christmas party season, avoiding overindulgence and eating to beat a hangover.
‘My diet is pretty good most of the time,’ says Kerry, Good Food's nutritionist, ‘but the party season is tricky. Here are my strategies for coping with the overindulgence and late nights that are an inevitable but enjoyable part of the festive season.’
1. Start the day with a healthy breakfast
If I'm going out in the evening, I'll start the day with a generous bowl of porridge, topped with a handful of cranberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Porridge stabilises blood sugar levels, which helps control appetite later in the day. I also add a good dollop of probiotic yogurt, which helps support the immune system and promote digestive health, as well as combat some of the less beneficial effects of the party season, like too much alcohol and not enough sleep.
Healthy breakfast ideas:
- Healthy porridge recipes & topping ideas
- Healthy breakfast recipe collection
- The best healthy overnight oats recipes
2. Stay hydrated
On the day of a big night out, and the day after, I make a conscious effort to drink six-eight glasses of water, or plenty of herbal teas or diluted juice. Even mild dehydration can lead to a headache and combined with the diuretic effects of alcohol, makes maintaining your fluid intake so important. Regular teas and coffee count towards your fluid intake, but caffeinated versions shouldn't make up your full quota. I sometimes struggle to drink enough when it's cold, so I'll take a full glass of water to bed with me at night and start the day with a second. I make sure I've drunk both before I have my breakfast.
How to stay hydrated:
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3. Include healthy and well-timed snacks
If I'm hungry when I arrive at a party, I struggle to resist the canapés, so I always have a pre-party snack. One of my favourites is a small pot of plain yogurt with a sliced banana. The yogurt's protein slows stomach emptying, which helps delay the effects of that first glass of wine while the potassium-rich banana helps balance any increase in my salt intake – especially helpful if I'm going to be nibbling on olives, crisps or salted nuts. I know I'm better off eating before I go to a party because I'm more likely to stick to my resolve when the canapés come round a second or third time. Other snacks which do the trick include granary toast with nut butter, a bowl of muesli with milk, or a mug of chunky vegetable soup.
Pre-party snack ideas:
4. Make healthier choices at party buffets
Buffets can be a disaster zone, so I make sure I fill half my plate with salad and vegetables, and the rest with protein-based canapés like salmon and chicken. I take my time selecting and eating my food and I move away from the table as soon as my plate is full so I avoid non-stop grazing. Discover more top tips for making healthy food choices at parties and our best healthier canapé ideas.
Healthy canapés/buffet food:
5. Prevent a hangover
Don't be tempted to skip meals so you can stockpile calories for drinking. Alcohol only supplies empty calories, so avoiding proper meals to compensate for a booze splurge means you're losing out on valuable nutrients, just when your body needs them to help it detoxify. To help prevent a hangover, stick to one type of drink and I make it a lighter-coloured one because they tend to be lower in the chemical by-products that can worsen a hangover. Aim to have no more than one alcoholic drink an hour, alternated with juice, water or soft drinks – perfect if you don't like holding an empty glass.
Top tips to prevent a hangover:
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6. Eat well the morning after
My best 'morning after' breakfast is a frittata or omelette packed with veg. I love mushrooms for their energising B vitamins, tomatoes for vitamin C and onions for their liver-friendly sulphur compounds. If I have spinach to hand I'll add a generous handful because it's a great source of folate which helps my body repair DNA. Eggs are an excellent choice for the morning after because they provide choline, a nutrient that supports the liver. Add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or a chopped chilli to boost circulation and rev up your recovery. If you can't face a cooked breakfast then have a smoothie made with fruits like bananas, oranges or kiwi – these are rich in potassium which helps replenish the electrolytes lost due to the diuretic effects of alcohol.
- Spanish spinach omelette
- Artichoke & roasted red pepper soufflé omelette
- One-pan English breakfast
- Forest fruit & banana smoothie
7. Get right back on track
After a big night out I don't skip meals, even if I have over-indulged. After all, it's the balance of your diet that's important. I apply the 80:20 principle – eating healthily 80% of the time, which allows me the space for delicious treats at weekends and on special occasions.
This article was last reviewed on 2 November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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How do you plan to stay healthy over the festive season? Let us know in the comments below...