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Diet over the festive season

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Introduction to diet over the festive season

Diet and the festive seasonThe festive season is a time when we get together with family and friends, and often have more social gatherings than at other times of the year. Invariably getting together involves eating, and sometimes consuming excessive amounts of food or excessive amounts of unhealthy foods. Many of the foods served at parties (e.g. chips, salted nuts, cakes) are unhealthy if consumed in large quantities.Dinners served at restaurants may have higher quantities of fat and salt than those prepared at home, and many restaurants also offer very large portion sizes, meaning more calories. We tend to drink a lot more alcohol too, and this can contribute significantly to our daily calorie requirement.

The festive season is therefore a time of year when there are many challenges to maintaining a healthy diet. There are definitely guidelines to help remember what and how much we should be eating every day. With a bit of effort we can incorporate healthy food into our diet during the silly season.


How much should I eat?

To maintain our weight, we should be having the same amount of energy from food and drink (measured in calories) as we use up to perform bodily functions and do exercise. So if we’re eating and drinking far more calories than we are using, we can put on a lot of weight. Eventually this can lead to much more serious problems.

The festive season is hectic so people tend to skip exercise and go to a lot more parties. Therefore it’s often at this time Australians can gain weight.

Exercise and the festive seasonFor more information, see Exercise During the Festive Season


What types of foods should I eat?

It is important that you eat a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals and including each food group in appropriate proportions. Women should eat the following quantities each day:

  • Fruit: 2 servings (one serving is a medium piece of fruit or equivalent);
  • Vegetables: 5 servings (one serving is 75 g of cooked vegetables or a cup of raw salad vegetables);
  • Cereals: 4–9 servings (one serving is two slices of bread; one cup of cooked rice or equivalent);
  • Dairy products: 2 servings (one serving is 250 mL of milk, 40 g of cheese, or 200 g of yoghurt);
  • Lean meat, poultry, fish and legumes: 1 serving (one serving is 65–100 g of cooked meat or equivalent);
  • Fats and sugars: In small quantities, occasionally.

Men should eat the following quantities each day:

  • Fruit: 2 servings (one serving is a medium piece of fruit or equivalent);
  • Vegetables: 5 servings (one serving is 75 g of cooked vegetables or a cup of raw salad vegetables);
  • Cereals: 6–12 servings (one serving is two slices of bread; one cup of cooked rice or equivalent);
  • Dairy products: 2 servings (one serving is 250 mL of milk, 40 g of cheese, or 200 g of yoghurt);
  • Lean meat, poultry, fish and legumes: 1 serving (one serving is 65–100 g of cooked meat or equivalent);
  • Fats and sugars: In small quantities, occasionally.


Tips for maintaining a healthy diet over the festive period

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

Diet and the festive seasonFruit and vegetables provide essential nutrients which against many chronic health conditions. Eating at least 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables per day is important for maintaining good health. Many Australians do not get enough fruit and vegetables and, in the busy festive period, we may be even less likely to do so.

Perhaps try the following:

  • Add fresh, tinned or thawed-frozen fruits to breakfast cereal;
  • Try a banana, tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado, corn or capsicum for toast topping;
  • Serve plenty of vegetables with every meal, including the traditional Christmas feast;
  • Enjoy more exotic seasonal fruits such as cherries and pineapples;
  • Snack on vegetable sticks with low fat dip at social gatherings and on Christmas day;
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, of different colours (e.g. leafy greens, root vegetables);
  • Add fruits to a cheese platter, salad, or couscous;
  • Serve fruit salad for dessert on Christmas day (or other days), instead of the traditional pudding.

Avoid unhealthy snacks

Snack foods (e.g. chips, sweets, cakes, salted nuts) are unhealthy because they have a high fat, salt or sugar content. Eating a lot can therefore contribute substantially to your daily calorie intake, creating a risk for overweight and obesity. This can lead to diabetes or heart problems. So try the following snacks in moderation:

  • Try preparing healthy dips from fruits and vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, avocado) or low fat yoghurt;
  • Serve vegetable sticks or toasted wholemeal bread with dip, instead of chips and crackers;
  • Remove the skin and trim fat from meat before cooking it.

Consume alcohol in moderation

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol increases the risk of many chronic health conditions, but also involves immediate risks such as trauma and the morning after hangover. There are guidelines to know how much is safe.

Alcohol and the festive seasonFor more information, see Alcohol During the Festive Season

Eat a good breakfast, even on Christmas day

Breakfast provides the body with energy to get going for the day, and also fills the stomach so we are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods in the morning. Eating a wholesome breakfast every day is important, however, in the busy festive season, we might be more likely to skip breakfast, for example because we feel we are too busy. This might be particularly so on days like Christmas, when there are presents to open, visitors to look after and lunch to prepare. You may really benefit from the following tips:

  • Eating a good breakfast on Christmas day will fill the stomach and reduce your desire to snack on unhealthy food throughout the day;
  • Add fresh, tinned or frozen fruit to breakfast cereal gives breakfast a nutrient boost. Adding traditional Christmas fruits such as cherries can give it a Christmas feel;
  • Use a banana or tomato for toast topping;
  • Add grated apple or pear to pancake mix;
  • Have a fresh fruit smoothie, prepared from favourite fruits, skim milk and low fat yoghurt, to add some calcium to the first meal of the day.

Don’t overeat in the festive period

Diet and the festive seasonOvereating in a single sitting can lead to an uncomfortable feeling of being overfull,while regular overeating can cause excessive calorie intake and weight gain.Even eating many high-fat or high-sugar snacks throughout the day, or if meals are high in fat or protein, can lead to weight gain.

So try the following during the festive season:

  • Stop eating when you begin feeling full;
  • Eat slowly to get a better sense of when you begin feeling full;
  • Be aware of portion sizes in restaurants and that they are often very large.
  • Choose light meals from the menu;
  • Drink water rather than sugary drinks;
  • Keep track of how many calories you consume (e.g. using a calorie counter) and aim to eat no more than you expend;
  • Avoid or consume in moderation high calorie snacks like chips, nuts and sweets. Snack on fruits and vegetables instead;
  • When eating out, choose healthy, low calorie options such as salads and low fat meats;
  • When cooking at home, cut potatoes and other vegetables into larger chunks for roasting, as they will absorb less fat and ultimately contain less calories when cooked. Remove the skin and trim fat from meat before cooking it;
  • Get plenty of exercise to burn off calories. Take a walk after eating, or get some exercise playing with the kids and their new Christmas toys.

Prepare and store food and leftovers hygienically

Preparing and cooking poultry

Diet and the festive seasonRaw poultry and some other meats contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Cooking naturally eliminates these bacteria, so it is important to ensure that poultry is cooked thoroughly, and that it does not come into contact with other meats while it is raw. To protect against this:

  • Ensure that the turkey or other Christmas meats are fully defrosted before baking. Stick a fork into the thickest part of the meat to test whether or not it feels frozen;
  • Defrost frozen meat in the fridge if possible. If there is not sufficient space in the fridge, meat should be defrosted in a sealed container, in a clean, cool spot, out of reach of pets and children;
  • Check the packaging to find out how long the turkey or other meat will take to defrost, and ensure that it is removed from the freezer early enough to allow sufficient time to thoroughly defrost. As a rough guide, turkeys take on average:
    • 10–12 hours per kg to defrost in a refrigerator (4oC);
    • 3–4 hours per kg to defrost in a cool room (17.5oC); and
    • 2 hours to defrost at room temperature (20oC).
  • Ensure that raw poultry or other meat does not come into contact with other foods by:
    • Washing hands thoroughly after touching poultry;
    • Cleaning benches, chopping boards and other utensils thoroughly after using them to prepare raw poultry;
    • Don’t wash the turkey as it is unnecessary and can spread bacteria;
    • Store turkey away from fresh foods, including other meats, and ensure that juice from the meat does not drip onto other foods;
  • Allow sufficient time to cook the turkey or other meat thoroughly. Cooking times for turkey vary depending on the weight of the bird. As a rough guide, allow the following times for cooking turkeys of varying weights in a 180oC oven:
    • < 4.5 kg: 45 minutes per kg + 20 mins;
    • 4.56.5 kg: 40 minutes per kilo;
    • > 6.5 kg: 35 minutes per kilo;
  • Ensure the turkey or other meat is thoroughly cooked by:
    • Checking that the meat is steaming hot all the way through;
    • Cutting the turkey open at the thickest part;
    • Sticking a fork into the turkey and checking that the juices run clear;
    • Checking the temperature of the thickest flesh of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) with a thermometer. The flesh should be ≥ 70oC for 2 minutes or more when taken out of the oven;
    • Waiting for the pop-up timer to pop-up. Some birds come with built-in pop-up thermometers that indicate when the bird is cooked.

Leftovers

There is invariably some food left over after the Christmas feast, so to avoid food poisoning remember to:

  • Cool leftovers as quickly as possible after cooking, ideally in less than two hours;
  • Store leftovers in the fridge after they have cooled;
  • When using leftovers, take out of the fridge only the portion that will be reused, and leave the rest in the fridge;
  • Do not leave plates of left over turkey or other meat (e.g. on a platter) outside of the fridge for more than one hour;
  • Always reheat leftovers thoroughly so that they are steaming hot all the way through. Leftovers should not be reheated more than once;
  • Consume leftovers within 48 hours.
Food safetyFor more information on food hygiene, see Food Poisoning Prevention and Food Safety.

More information

Festive health
For more information on health during the festive season, including sleep, diet, exercise and stress, see Festive Health
.
Nutrition
For more information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition.

References

  1. Healthy eating over the jolly season [online]. Glebe, NSW: Diabetes Australia NSW; 2008 [cited 14 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  2. Diet and lifestyle recommendations [online]. Dallas, TX: American Heart Foundation; 2009 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  3. Dietary guidelines for Australian adults [online]. Canberra, ACT: National Health and Medical Research Council; 10 April 2003 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  4. Risk factors: Low fruit and vegetable consumption [online]. Bruce, ACT: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2001 [cited 14 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  5. Healthy Christmas eating [online]. London: Food Standards Agency UK; 2009 [cited 11 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  6. Tips to get 2&5 in your day [online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing; 2009 [cited 14 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  7. Healthy eating for a healthy weight [online]. Atlanta, GA: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; 27 January 2009 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  8. Kellett E, Smith A, Schmerlaib Y. The Australian guide to healthy eating [online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing; 1998 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
  9. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. Chapter 5: Energy [online]. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2005 [cited 6 June 2009]. Available from: URL link
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Dates

Posted On: 22 December, 2009
Modified On: 28 November, 2018

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