Five Tips for a Healthy Christmas
1 Nutrition – From our food we obtain cofactor nutrients which are essential in energy production, hormone production, neurotransmitter synthesis, healthy digestion & detoxification & elimination of toxins. These nutrients are depleted by alcohol, refined sugars, stress & medication. We forget about the impact medications have on nutrients & especially at this time of year when paracetamol, antacids, anti-inflammatories & cold & flu remedies are popped like candy, it is no wonder the hang-overs are worse, post-Christmas is spent with a cough or cold that won’t shift & the fatigue hits hard in January. Eating a nourishing whole food diet all year round ensures we are better able to cope in times of extra demand. At this time of year there’s an abundance of medicinal foods with wide ranging phytonutrient properties we can use to protect ourselves from illness & burnout.
To ensure you’re meeting cofactor needs, include in your diet adequate dark green leafy veg, sweet potato, squash, carrots, potatoes, brassica family vegetables, garlic, bananas, kiwi fruit, apples, citrus fruit, dark berries, turkey, beef, sardines, salmon, tuna, shellfish, eggs, mushrooms, legumes, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, oats, quinoa & brown rice. This list is not exhaustive but once again demonstrates the importance of diversity & colours in the foods we eat.
If the thought of eating brussel sprouts with Christmas dinner fills you with dread, try roasting them in olive oil with crushed garlic & a generous squeeze of lemon or sauté them with pancetta. Cooked this way they’re lovely & sweet rather than mushy & smelly! Cauliflower roasted in cumin gives a subtle spicy kick. Carrots & parsnips roasted in olive oil, cumin seeds, lemon juice & honey are particularly delicious. Experimenting with cooking methods, herbs & spices can throw up some interesting & tasty ways of enjoying foods you may previously have dismissed. Just bear in mind, vitamins B & C are water soluble so boiling vegetables results in nutrient loss.
2 Hydration – Adequate fluid intake over the course of the day is essential for cognitive function, energy levels & to ensure natural bowel movements to support detoxification & elimination. Signs of dehydration include headache, fatigue, confusion, low energy & constipation. Depending on where you look, the recommended daily fluid intake is between 1-2 litres but if you’re drinking more alcohol & caffeine than usual over the Christmas period it is particularly advisable to aim for the higher end of that recommendation.
Ideally fluid intake should be made up of water (add berries/cucumber/herbs/sliced citrus fruits to increase palatability), green tea & herbal teas. I love good quality herbal teas as they’re an excellent way of not only staying hydrated but offering support to body systems too. My go to brands are Pukka & Heath & Heather because the quality of their ingredients & their blends give a therapeutic dose when consumed consistently.
I’ve listed a few below with the benefits of these particular blends at this time of year –
Pukka Cleanse to soothe the digestive system
Pukka Licorice & Cinnamon to support the adrenals, blood sugar balance, digestion & the liver
Pukka Love or Relax to soothe the nerves, promote clear thinking & support digestion
Pukka Revitalise so lovely & warming, good for circulation, restores vitality
Pukka Supreme Matcha Green Tea for antioxidant & anti-inflammatory properties, immune system support, as a weight-loss aid & to support the stress response (just a few of the many beneficial properties of green tea)
Pukka Turmeric Gold for its anti-inflammatory properties
Heath & Heather Sage & Lemon Myrtle to clear the mind & lift spirits. Sage is also a wonderful support if you’re experiencing hormonal hot flushes
Heath & Heather Green Tea with Tulsi which can ease the effects of emotional distress, restore focus & clarity
3 Sleep – Good quality sleep is such an under-rated but vitally important aspect of our lives. It is the time when our body carries out the essential ‘rest, digest & repair’ process & is also necessary for healthy stress response & hormone synthesis. There are many factors affecting sleep & sleep quality but I’ve outlined a few below that are particularly relevant over the festive period.
Be mindful of consuming caffeine after 3pm to avoid disrupting the sleep cycle. It takes around 45 minutes for the body to absorb caffeine & for some people 7 hours to be neutralised.
Try not to eat heavy meals late in the evening. If you know you’ll be eating later than usual ensure you start the day with a good breakfast, make your lunch the main meal of the day & choose something less rich & lighter when you go out in the evening. Acid reflux, poor blood sugar balance & just having to digest a rich, heavy meal consumed late at night can negatively impact on our sleep.
Many people misguidedly think alcohol helps them sleep & although you may fall asleep quickly you’ll often find you wake a few hours later & then struggle to get back to sleep again. This results in a disrupted night sleep due to blood sugar dysregulation, dehydration & the process our body goes through to metabolise alcohol.
So how can you help yourself? Routine is imperative to restorative, quality sleep, but with Christmas parties its not always possible to be in bed by your usual 10.30pm, however do aim to keep to your normal sleep pattern rather than being tempted to sleep until midday. If you really are struggling & burning the candle at both ends, take a thirty minute nap. Studies have found short naps can increase alertness, performance & mood. If you’re used to exercising try to keep this routine too, although if you’ve been ill, are stressed or haven’t been eating healthful food try a gentler form of exercise but keep the movement your body is used to.
Incorporate into evening meals & snacks foods rich in tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid used to produce serotonin & is responsible for normal sleep & is found in nut butters, oats, bananas, dates, turkey & tuna.
It is important to wind down at the end of the day & calm the mind in preparation for sleep. Useful aids are lavender essential oil, Epsom salt baths, breathing techniques & herbal teas.
4 Stress – For many people, the build up to Christmas alone is a cause for stress due to the pressure they put on themselves, expectations they feel from family or peers & in more recent years the comparisons drawn from social media. Worry leading to stress can lead people to increase their consumption of alcohol, can cause irritability, headaches, withdrawal, insomnia, changes in breathing, appetite & digestive function. Stress is also the foundation for many major illnesses so it is therefore essential we aim to keep things in perspective & if we really are struggling to remember there’s no shame in asking for help.
A really important factor to remember is that we can say no! However, if the thought of doing that causes stress then consider meeting people half way. For example, if social anxiety or just the pressure of another event to attend is too much, rather than committing to the whole party agree to ‘show your face’ or if the Boxing Day sales are too overwhelming agree to meet for lunch after your friends/family have shopped. Keep things manageable for you. It is also crucial to be aware we all deal with stress in different ways & what may seem like nothing to you could be a big deal to somebody else. Show kindness & consideration.
Anxiety is particularly debilitating over the Christmas period & one simple & useful method in a situation where you feel the panic taking over is to keep a meaningful picture on your phone. Focus solely on the picture, taking deep breaths in through your nose & out through your mouth until the feeling passes & you’re back in control.
Christmas is the time of year people over-indulge & there’s an abundance of alcohol, chocolates, sweets, cakes, processed meat, fried food & fizzy drinks. These are food & drinks we may not normally consume & are full of additives, artificial sweeteners & preservatives that alter hormone function, deplete nutrients we use for good mood, energy & nervous system support & contribute to overall stress on the body. It is therefore advisable to be mindful of what you’re eating to limit the body burden & consider the benefits of switching to mocktails or just plain water.
Make time for yourself, even if its just half an hour each day of doing something that allows for a clear mind & brings enjoyment to you. For example, reading, meditating, colouring, yoga, stretching, taking a bath, playing with your pet or walking in the fresh air.
5 Enjoyment – It sometimes sounds like we’re preparing ourselves for war (& in some families that can be the situation) rather than what is essentially a 3 day festive period. Laughter, making memories, caring & sharing time with loved ones are precious moments we don’t get a second chance at. Remember, life goes on after Christmas is over & taking the steps above can ensure you’re still standing & ready for a healthy, happy 2018!