How to survive party season: Christmas health hacks
Eat, drink and be merry this Christmas without ending up bloated and ill – a guide on how to party the healthier way
Culture Whisper's resident wellness coach and nutritional adviser suggests seven simple tips on how to navigate the party season and feel festive without starting the New Year feeling, bloated, guilty and worn to the bone.
1. Plan your alcohol intake: mindful drinking
Most of us like an excuse to indulge in a few glasses of fizz or a cocktail or two, but take some precautions before embarking on your big night out.
• Eat a healthy snack before leaving for the party. Good fats slow down the absorption of alcohol into the blood, so have a light bite that contains healthy unsaturated fat: a tuna sandwich, avocado on crispbread, or rye toast with nut butter and banana.
• Avoid mixing your drinks. Medleys of weird and wonderful cocktails seem like a good idea at the time – we all know, however, that the night ends better if you stick to one type of drink.
• Choose wisely. Red wine is high in antioxidants and is medically recommended for its cardiovascular benefits, if drunk in moderation. Spirits mixed with soda and a slice of lime are a good low-calorie option. Short, sharp cocktails tend to be less sugary than the long fruit juice laden alternatives, which are so moreish you forget you are drinking alcohol.
• Drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
• Try non-alcoholic options. The choice of low-alcohol drinks is deliciously overwhelming. Our favourite top-end non-alcoholic sparkling wine is Pearl Blanc, which is organic, distilled in the same way as wine and very low in calories. We also highly recommend the fiery hit of the soft drink, Belvoir’s ginger cordial, mixed with sparkling water.
2. Stay hydrated: drink to keep hangovers at bay
An increase in your alcohol consumption may well lead to dehydration and ‘morning after headaches’. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day, and after a long evening of revelry, place a glass of water at your bedside, to help stave off the holiday hangovers.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
A full work and social diary and its commensurate overindulgence can wreak havoc on your sleep. We all know the importance of uninterrupted core-hours sleep for our mind and bodies, but we particularly need our ‘beauty sleep’ at this time of year to look and feel good whilst out partying. Prioritise at least two nights per week for a quiet night in – you may even manage a sneaky afternoon catnap at the weekend.
4. Find healthy sugar substitutes
The lead-up to Christmas and the big day itself present boundless opportunities to treat yourself to foods you might otherwise resist. Many are full of refined sugar.
Sugars to avoid:
- Agave is often hailed as a good alternative to table sugar, but is actually often highly processed
- Artificial sweeteners
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS); this baddie is a highly addictive additive – look at the nutrient labels on sweet foods
- Regular table sugar
- Honey is stuffed with B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals and is a great natural anti-inflammatory
- Stevia is a naturally sweet herb from South America, 300 times sweeter than sugar
- Coconut sugar has a yummy caramel taste
- Dates are full of fibre and vitamin B – if cooking some sweet treats, dates are a great way to enhance sweetness without resorting to ladles of refined sugar
5. Seek out the low-calorie canapés
It is easy to get carried away, tasting every beautifully crafted canapé that comes your way, but you will end up eating far more than you would if sitting down to a three-course meal. Be a bit selective – avoid deep-fried titbits, cheesy bites, fancy pastry creations and cocktail sausages. Choose instead vegetarian options or anything protein based. You can’t beat a good quail’s egg canapé, packed full of protein, vitamin A and minerals; or smoked salmon on rye bread, which give you a good balance of healthy omega-3 fats, protein and fibre. Steer clear of the crisps; they're empty calories cooked in trans fats, which carry a carcinogenic health warning.
Try our own traditional family favourites:
- Blini topped with hummus, sliced quail’s egg, anchovy and sliced olive.
- Squares of fresh sprouting-rye bread with gravlax and dill sauce or smoked salmon and lemon
- Small round of Yorkshire pudding filled generously with fresh twists of roast beef and horseradish
6. Smart snacking
The hectic pace of December can lead to slumps in energy, cravings and snacking. This is the season of the satsuma, a great little snack full of vitamins C and A, which will boost your immune system, helping you to cruise through the winter germ-free. Or for a turbo-charged mid-morning snack indulge in a deliciously healthy ‘Madeleine Shaw’ inspired protein ball (see recipe below).
Protein Ball Snacks
- 100g oats
- 150g almonds
- 50g raw cacao
- 1 tbs maca powder
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tbsp honey
- 100g almond butter
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
7. The WOW detox (Walking, Oranges, Water)
If at any stage you feel your spirits and energy flagging in the run up to Christmas, try this ultra-simple one-day detox to rehydrate, boost the vitamin C levels and get the serotonin flowing. Walk as much as possible, eat as many oranges as you like and drink up to two litres of water in the day.
8. How to make Christmas dinner healthy(ish)
Having navigated the lead-in to Christmas it is now time to indulge and enjoy the day itself. It's all about treats and celebration, but nobody enjoys ending the day feeling like a bloated padded Santa, so for our final few words of advice:
• Take a bracing walk with the family before settling down to lunch: this will help to offset the calorie overload of the celebratory feast to come.
• Christmas roast dinner is actually a very nutritious meal. The good news for meat eaters is that turkey is particularly high in B vitamins, which boost energy levels. It is also a concentrated source of protein and very low in saturated fat – eat as much as you like, guilt free. Traditional Christmas vegetables include Brussels sprouts – these are high in vitamin A, as well as being a good source of folate and indoles, which may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Load up your plate with Brussels sprouts and other green vegetables. Potatoes are high in iron and magnesium as well as being rich in fibre, and provide 45% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C – so don’t feel you have to bypass the roasties. Go easy on the sauces: gravy, cranberry and bread sauce are all full of fat and sugar and will probably double the calorific value of the main meal. Christmas pudding – you either love it or hate it; but it does come with a health warning – it’s loaded with saturated fat and sugar. Savour just a couple of spoonfuls of this rich concoction or opt for cheese and crackers instead – even better, call it a day and take a handful of nuts! For our own twist on Christmas pudding try the recipe below:
Alternative Christmas pudding recipe, filled with the goodness of spices and mixed fruit – great with a glass of mulled wine.
Spiced Apple Cake
- 225g self-raising wholemeal flour
- 3tsp ground mixed spice
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 large cooking apple, grated
- 150ml olive oil
- 75g soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 50g dried mixed fruit
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 125g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 150°C. Line a 22x12x 6.5cm loaf tin with baking paper. Sift the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Add the grated apple, oil, sugar, honey, almond extract, dried mixed fruit, eggs and 100g of the almonds. Stir well and pour into the tin. Scatter the remaining 25g almonds on top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1hr to 1hr 15 mins or until the top feels just set.