Lighten up for the long haul

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am


Three low, one high: this is the eating principle that the Health Department's Central Health Education Unit recommends for this holiday season. That means picking foods that are low in salt, fat and sugar, and high in fibre.

Such strict eating rules sound counter-intuitive at a time when the usual practice is to indulge and let loose, but research shows that the half a kilogram of weight most people gain during this season may never come off, according to the US National Institutes of Health. It may seem like a negligible amount of weight, but think of it as a 5kg weight gain over a 10-year period and it isn't all that insignificant any more.

Healthy festive eating is easier than you would imagine: just passing on the skin of 100 grams of butter-basted turkey, for example, can save you 42 calories and 2.9 grams of fat, says the website of Britain's National Health Service. Leaving that butter out of your Brussels sprouts can save you another 37 calories and 4.1 grams of fat.

Here are some other tips from the Health Department to enjoy the season healthily:

Eat a regular amount at regular times. Don't eat less or eat nothing during the day just to prepare for the big meal at night. When deprived of food, the body, instinctively fearing starvation, burns calories more slowly, hoards energy and builds up fat stores.

Think small. For party hosts, serve food in smaller or bite-sized portions, which can help guests better control their intake. Using smaller cutlery and smaller plates has also been shown to promote eating less.

Go natural. The less processing a food has, the better. Pick unrefined grains over whites, like a wholewheat dinner roll over a croissant. Avoid processed meat such as bacon, ham and sausage, which are often laden with salt and fat. Fill your plate with more fresh fruit and vegetables and less meat and carbohydrates. And have water as your main beverage: alcohol is very energy dense at seven calories per gram.

Celebrate differently. There are other ways to socialise than over food: playing indoor games or outdoor activities will also provide many memorable moments. On that note, don't eat and play at the same time. Paying attention to what and how much you eat can help you better sense satiety.

Enjoy. Eat slowly to allow time for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full and prevent overeating.