Health Plus Medical Consultant
Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation
Christmas is notoriously a time for overindulgence, more so in a year when the world came to a halt and the fragility of our existence became more evident. Not being a grinch with your joy this season, but Health Plus wanted to ensure, you revel in all the festivities without too much impact on your health and waistline.
It is our working assumption that when the Christmas ham, pastelles and ponche de crème appear, calories stop counting! It might be surprising to find out, we amass around 7,000 calories on Christmas day alone, that is more than double the recommended daily amount for men and more than three times that for women, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
But who really stops to count during the season?
Your waistline and your heart certainly does!
The Christmas Coronary
The Heart Foundation (California, USA) reports that “during December and January, when we indulge the most and our stress levels are at an all-time high, 33% more deaths due to heart attacks occur”. While the development of heart disease doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks, the rise in cardiac-related deaths during the holiday season may be due to a culmination of risk factors (stress, excess food and alcohol, and less exercise) crammed into a short period.
Now, the last thing we want to do is put you off your favourite festive treats but if you are trying to balance things out this holiday season and not add to the Covid-19 weight gain, these hacks shared by Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation may help you create that “mythical healthful” Christmas, without feeling like a dietary scrooge!
Hacks for a health-ful Christmas
1. Eat Smart
The key is moderation rather than deprivation. You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or endure a feeling of guilt with your indulgences, instead just moderate.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a decadent lunch or dinner, but you should try to ensure that your meals surrounding it are healthy and nutritious. Opt for healthy breakfast options leading up to the big day or try to have a lighter lunch on the following days. By eating healthy throughout the season, you can afford to go all out for the big events.
Sometimes eating better is as simple as keeping more healthy choices readily available. Increase the number of vegetable dishes on the table, or serve vegetables first - like a salad before the meal which can help make sure everyone gets their serving of veggies instead of filling up on the less healthy options.
Another option for eating smart this season is to find healthy alternatives to your favourite dishes, like baking instead of frying, using less butter and salt and avoiding canned, processed, and premade foods.
2. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Even in normal years, people tend to raise an extra glass or two at this time of year, but the pandemic has increased stress levels, making things worse, which may encourage more drinking.
Over time, excessive drinking can raise your blood pressure, is a risk for stroke and a potential link to coronary artery disease. In fact, in adults under 40, moderate to heavy drinking over an extended period (or binge drinking) may increase the risk of an irregular heartbeat known as arterial fibrillation, according to the preliminary results of a 2021 study from South Korea.
So, even if you can't avoid the wine, beer or cocktails all together, remember not to drink on an empty stomach. Also, switching to non-alcoholic alternatives (avoid soda) or a glass of water in between every alcoholic beverage can help you pace yourself and fight off dehydration.
3. Keep Moving!
Don’t forgo exercise. It’s easy to neglect physical activity during the holiday season as there’s a million other things to do. But, part of the reason why people can gain weight this time of year is because there is a lot of focus on food, from visiting loved ones, Christmas parties or just sitting around snacking all day. Make sure to make an effort to include some exercise into the festivities!
Take a walk around your neighbourhood to look at lights or find a workout video online. Even if you can only exercise in small bursts throughout the day, make time to do some jumping jacks or push-ups. Exercising works wonders on your heart and helps relieve stress!
4. Pay Attention and Take Time for Yourself
Christmas can be a draining and stressful period. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. Remember to take time every day for yourself. Even a few minutes of quiet can help you recharge. And if you feel like something’s wrong, seek medical attention, don’t blame it on stress, or brush it off. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Eating well and staying healthy can be difficult around this time, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. By maintaining your physical and mental health, you can have a strong start to the new year.
Bonus Hack !
Switch to Dark Chocolates
In Trinidad and Tobago we are blessed with a variety of locally produced chocolate bars. Try good-quality, dark chocolate instead; this will give you the cocoa kick in fewer calories. As an added bonus, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate may, in small amounts, help to prevent heart disease and high blood pressure.
Following these tips could save you roughly 3,000 calories, which just shows you really can have your cake and eat it!