Temptation lurks around every corner at this time of the year! Supermarket shelves groan with ‘goodies’, special offers abound, everything from Brussels sprouts to bread rolls are presented in larger than normal ‘value for money’ packs and we are often blindly-led to fill the cupboards, fridge and freezer with ‘just in case’ stocks of party nibbles, drinks and festive treats that we don’t even consider from January to November!
Sadly, this bombardment of ‘fabulous festive fayre’ has danger written all over it when it comes to waistline management so how do you get through it without packing on the pounds and having to face the gruelling thought of a super-strict diet just days after the New Year celebrations?
KEEP AN EYE ON THE SUGAR!
Stress levels can reach an all time high in the run up to Christmas with ‘to do’ lists that never seem to get any shorter no matter how organised you are so you likely don’t need the added stress of analysing every morsel or sip that passes your lips but body swerving sugar (particularly ‘added’ sugars) wherever and whenever possible will pay huge dividends.
Here are some top tips:
- Find alternatives to fizzy soft drinks. They are loaded with sugar and the ‘diet’ and ‘zero’ versions are no better as the brain regards the artificial sugars in the same way, prompts the pancreas to release insulin so the extra ‘sugars’ in the bloodstream are removed and guess where it generally ends up? In the fat cells! If you need a bit of ‘fizz’, go for 50:50 soda or sparkling water with fresh fruit juice.
- Walk past the tin of sweets. Only at Christmas will you find a big tin of sweets or chocolates on the reception desk at hairdressers, nail parlours, banks, building societies, print shops etc. Nice festive thought but no thanks! Mindless eating experiments suggest that every time we ‘see‘ something that is tasty and tempting (particularly sweet things), our taste buds start to tingle and we are faced with the difficult yes/no decision. And, the more often we are faced with that decision, the more likely we are to fall prey to the “well, just this once” response. Solution? Distract yourself however you can and as fast as you can!
- Recycle ‘sweet‘ gifts. When people arrive at your door bearing gifts of the sugary kind, be effusive in your thanks but unless you are super-disciplined and confident that you can just occasionally have a ‘wee treat‘ before putting them back in the cupboard/fridge – DON’T OPEN THEM! Either get someone to hide them where you are unlikely to find them or give them to your granny, auntie or to charity! It’s not a case of being ungrateful, it’s more a case of self and waistline preservation!
- Hone your label detective skills. Anything you buy in packs, cartons, tins etc has to reveal the amount of sugar involved. Look at the ingredients – these are always listed on a ‘most first‘ basis so if sugar, syrup, molasses or anything ending in -ose (glucose etc) or -ol (sorbitol etc) is near the top, put it back on the shelf or regard it as a very occasional addition to your shopping basket.
- Look at the nutrition panel. Focus on the ‘per 100g‘ and ‘Carbohydrates – of which sugars‘ section. 10g is high, 2g is low so aim for no more than 4-5g.
- Keep it simple on no-party days. The most frustrating thing about sugar is that the more we have the more we want and as the body adapts rather too quickly and eagerly to a sugar-laden diet it doesn’t take kindly to what it regards as ‘slim pickings’. This unhealthy, biochemical reality is largely why waistlines are increasing globally at such a pace and we are seeing such an alarming, annual increase in cases of type 2 diabetes. To stop the rot and ensure you don’t become a sugar-head or worse still, a case study, the kindest thing you can do for your body is have at least 4 sugar-free days a week. So, whilst some prefer to believe that every day is party time at this time of year, make a determined effort to eat ‘fresh and light’ all day when there are no social engagements in the diary or if possible simply graze on fresh fruits and vegetables and light fish or chicken broths and sip herb teas and water for 24 hours. Your liver will love you for it!
- Don’t forget soup. It is no secret that I am a big soup fan and for good reason when it comes to keeping an eagle eye on sugar consumption. A good soup, bursting with vegetables, protein and a few herbs and spices seriously dulls cravings for sweet things and makes it a great deal easier to say “no” to the mince pies and other sweet pastries that appear in the office on an all-too-regular basis as we all get into the ‘Christmas spirit’. If you haven’t already got one, goad Santa into coming early and treat yourself to a wide-necked flask, make a batch of our light, delicious and immune-boosting Chinese Little Gem & Chicken/Tofu Soup and take it to the office or when you are out and about and need a bit of comfort and nourishment.
- Deal with sugar snack attacks. When stress levels are high and time is not on your side, your body biochemistry gets skewed and sugar demands can spiral out of control. You probably know at which times of the day these mind-altering incidents are most likely to occur so plan ahead and ensure you have a few ‘saviours‘ in your handbag, briefcase, desk drawer or fridge and have a small snack before the sugar monster has a chance to wake up. A couple of pieces of fresh fruit, a small bag of fresh nuts and seeds, a selection of raw vegetable ‘sticks’, a few mini oatcakes, a small tub of hummus or cottage cheese, a small bar (35g) of dark, 70% cocoa solids chocolate, a cold boiled egg or a jar of Bovril to make a quick, nutritious and warming brew.
- Eat before you party. You have likely read this piece of advice before but it bears repeating! Party time invariably involves alcohol, alcohol prompts the ‘munchies‘ and a lessening of resolve and before you know it you have hoovered your way through every delectable bite on offer (both savoury and sweet). It’s much like going to the supermarket when you are hungry – the ‘see food and want it’ scenario can all-too-easily predominate. Don’t risk it – have a protein-rich meal or snack before you go out or if time is really tight, have some sliced cold meat or poultry and a chunk of cheese or a slice of rye toast with peanut butter while you are getting ready.
- And, while we’re on the subject of alcohol! Let’s not beat about the bush – alcohol provides very little in the way of nourishment and some ‘favourite combos’ are loaded with sugar. However, if we are in good health, don’t go totally overboard, remember to slurp plenty of water between drinks and have a good few days per week alcohol-free over the festive season, there is evidence that some alcoholic beverages offer good levels of heart-protective plant chemicals and a tipple or two may help to reduce stress which can seriously undermine our health over time. So, at this time of year a little of what we fancy may not do too much damage. Best choices to keep sugar consumption down are rich and fruity red wines, dry white wines, champagne, spirits on the rocks or with soda and/or fresh fruit juices and worst choices are anything with ‘mixers‘ (even the ‘diet‘ varieties), beers, ciders, sherry, port, liqueurs and the majority of cocktails unless they are super sharp and dry with no added sugar or syrups.
- Cook ahead for Christmas Day. The main culprits on the sugar front in a fairly classic Christmas lunch or dinner when you buy ‘off the shelf’ are the gravy, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the bread sauce, the roasted root vegetables, the Christmas pudding, the brandy butter and the Christmas cake. Most ready-made products, other than those prepared by small companies, passionate about keeping their products as natural as possible are fairly high in sugar thanks to its amazing preservative qualities which means they have a longer shelf life. Most of the above can be made ahead of time and frozen and when you make them yourself you know just exactly how much sugar is involved!
- Play clever with starches. It is vital to remember that starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, noodles, rice and other grains, beans, lentils, potatoes and root vegetables) are mainly networks of ‘bound sugars‘ so when eaten, the digestive system breaks them down into single sugars before releasing them into the bloodstream to feed our hungry body cells and create energy. However, if your day is largely sedentary you may not need too many of these sugars and if they are not needed, they are stored for later use – as fat! So, to prevent this happening and allow you to keep a grip on overall sugar consumption, go low on the above unless your day is physically demanding and/or work to my ‘seesaw strategy‘ where you only include them in your diet every 4th day. Just make sure that your diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, protein and good fats which will provide plenty of energy and body swerve processed foods and sugar wherever possible.