Everything in moderation - something we all aspire to when it comes to healthy eating but we often need a bit of guidance to get us there.
The easiest way to look for balance in our diet is by using the 80/20 rule otherwise known as the Pareto principle. This states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, and while Mr Pareto coined this with economics in mind, it suits healthy eating as well!
When Pareto’s Principle is taken in the nutrition context it is quite simple. If you multiply the number of meals, typically three a day, over a week and apply the 80/20 rule it means that three of your meals during any given week are more indulgent and the rest are “on plan”. If you keep to this ratio, the 80% good outweighs the 20% not-so good!
This is an ideal way to plan the festive period since there are always going to be days when indulgence is firmly on the menu! And the thing is; we do deserve it. We are human. We need to balance the work/play aspects of our lives and that’s just what holidays provide. It’s just that choosing to reward ourselves too often with comfort food and alcohol then establishes a causal link, and habits, that become decidedly unhealthy.
So what can we do to help stay on the path of moderation?
As it’s party season you may well be drinking a more alcohol than usual. Try to remember to consume plenty of water, sipping from a bottle of water throughout the day, around 2 litres on average, is a good rule to adopt. Drinking lots of water in one go isn’t the answer because your kidneys will generally react by increasing the speed at which you lose it - put simply, you’ll need to go to the toilet sooner! That’s why it’s important to sip fluids, and/or eat hydrating foods such as high-water content fruits and vegetables, regularly through the day. All drinks count towards your daily fluid intake, except alcohol, which tends to be dehydrating.
When it comes to food, for most people, it’s not the odd indulgent meal that’s the issue; it’s the snacking on hidden calorie bombs such as canapés and boxes of chocolates.
If you are in charge of the party food, try switching from the ubiquitous blinis as a canapé base to fine milled wheat free oatcakes. Blinis were traditionally made from buckwheat flour in Russia but have morphed into a more refined and less nutrient rich base. With so many people watching their intake of wheat, particular if you have a slinky party dress to slip into, you’ll be everyone’s favourite host for switching to an oatcake base that’s still mild enough in flavour to suit all taste buds.
When it comes to toppings, think flavour and freshness for the palate, over something heavier and cloying. A seasonal favourite is smoked salmon and cream cheese, especially when accompanied by an elf-sized wedge of fresh lemon.
When it comes to the main event of Christmas dinner, it can all go AWOL with the trimmings. Pigs in blankets or large servings of sausage meat stuffing can send the calorific value of your Christmas meal soaring. A traditional stuffing contains 120 calories per small serving (50 grams) and ready-made stuffing tends to have sugars added so try to find the time to make your own. If you stick to a few chipolatas and supersize the chestnut stuffing you’ll be on the right side of healthy. Chestnuts are low in fat and a good source of potassium too.
If there’s ever a time to celebrate vegetables, it’s at Christmas dinner. Let me say that my personal rule is to eat them however, whenever… I don’t sweat the small stuff. However, for those of you really trying to prevent the seasonal bloat, you could consider avoiding roasting them in oil or fat from the bird, which can move them from being fat-free to a sizeable 6g of fat.
The much-maligned sprouts are super dooper too. They contain the B vitamin folate, vitamin C, which may help to protect against heart disease and cancer and fibre, which helps to keep the digestive system healthy. Avoid melting butter on top before serving. They taste good naked!
Last but not least, when the main event has been and gone, there’s much to be said for to being creative with the leftovers.
Most of us end up with a half-consumed jar of fruit chutney or cranberry sauce and a handful of chestnuts from seasonal recipes. Add some delicious turkey leftovers and the combination makes a topping that’s ideal to get your energy back on track.