December is the most festive month of the year for many countries all over the globe. Festivities, holidays, and plentiful good food belong to December. But also, December is equally the month of the year many people tend to overindulge in just about everything: the good, the bad and the spending. At the same time, just after Christmas, we all try to focus on picking up our healthy habits again and set some goals.
In this article we will try and highlight some things to think about which could help minimize the impact of overindulgence on your health and make the transition to a health habit goal setting month in January easier.
Some simple reminders can do part of the trick:
- Avoid ultra-processed foods
- Pay attention to additives and herbicides / pesticides
- Make it enjoyable
- Keep that body moving
Let’s go over them in detail.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
Christmas time is the symbol of togetherness and sharing good meals. Food shopping is important in our culture especially when it concerns foods that we do not usually eat during the year. Over the holiday season, shops and supermarkets have become genuine temptation islands. It is hard to resist all the beautiful and exquisitely displayed ingredients, foods, and drinks. Moreover, our busy and increasingly stressed lives often create the best pretext to turn ourselves to fully or partly prepared meals with the excuse of being able to spend more time with our friends and family instead of spending more time in the kitchen.
However, we need to be cautious of ultra-processed foods.
But what are ultra-processed foods?
The term means food that is not directly offered by Mother Nature but is artificially produced and includes (sometimes in excess) ingredients such as sugar, salt, fats, as well as additives such as colorings. A way to recognize this easily is by just having a look at the ingredient lists: the longer the list of ingredients, the more processed the product generally is. This processed and ultra-processed food can become detrimental to our health and is often listed as one of the major causes of cancers, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease1.
While splashing out once-a-year might be acceptable, a lot of the time easy to go, easy to grab meals have become part of our way of life.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted – particularly during the first wave and the total lockdown period – in more home cooking. On the other hand, the availability of ultra-processed ingredients seems to have expanded equally, with manufacturers offering stacks of ready-to-use baking mixes, sweetener mixes, sauce mixes and other mixes of all kinds, which all are ultra-processed foods1. The result is that a lot of home cooking might not be as healthy as what it implies and might lack the health benefits offered by true wholesome cooking with pure ingredients2.
Organic foods or pesticide/herbicide free foods
A lot of controversy persists over the health benefits of organic foods. Even if, by definition, organic foods do not contain pesticide and herbicide residues, the reality on the ground may be quite different as some of these residues may still be found in tiny quantities in many fresh foods. These substances are potentially detrimental to our health and could lead to many medical problems. While organic food labeling may differ between countries, overall strict regulations apply.
Besides this, we have now the possibility to eat ‘local’. This means the meat or the vegetables and fruits you will consume are produced locally, in the same region or country as yours. Buying local and seasonal food might help to reduce the level of additives or pesticides used and, importantly, decreases the ecological footprint (no need to transport food from the other side of the planet).
Also, because this local food can be used directly by the consumer, this guarantees a high level of freshness and micronutrients3.
Enjoying the season
However, above all is the holiday season a period of happiness and joy: and that includes food and mealtimes. A traditional Christmas or New Year’s meal is usually appreciated by everyone: most of us like to skip the health food recommendations and just indulge at that time of the year. A bit of indulging over the festive season should be acceptable, within limits at least! We should avoid going overboard by binge eating and drinking using the excuse that it is holiday season. Instead, truly, and slowly enjoying and savoring well prepared wholesome meals can have beneficial effects without leaving us with feelings of guilt and the need of massive, though mostly improbable New Year’s resolutions. Remember: balance is key4.
Keep your body moving: Incorporate some physical activities
Enjoying holiday meals also equals sitting down at the table and lounging for many long hours. Studies show that sitting down for more than 10 hours a day altogether increases the risk for stroke and or heart attack5. So, it really is a good idea to incorporate a brisk walk or some light, playful physical activity with family members (or pets): it is an ideal way to compensate for that “little bit too much of everything”, be it sitting, eating, and drinking a bit too much of that mulled wine. Enjoying time in the outdoors, casting aside bad weather excuses by dressing appropriately and motivating each other clears the mind and keeps the fun spirit going! Even if your table members are not in for it: set the good example, keep moving and get the endorphins going. It will make your festive season all the merrier.
Idea for a slightly sinful treat:
These marzipan marbles are simply delicious, can be enjoyed with a cup of coffee, just as a sweet intermezzo, or to satisfy a sudden craving for something sweet and delicate. Make them very small, and savor them, just one or two of them is sufficient. They can equally be baked into biscuits in a medium oven for a couple of minutes (keeping a close watch as the mixture tends to burn rapidly with too hot temperatures).
100 g almonds (unsalted, organic)
About 1-2 tablespoons 100% pure honey
Grind the almonds as finely as possible until the mixture just begins to cling. Add the honey, 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture clings together and a ball can be formed. A few drops of almond essence can be added to create the real marzipan taste. Form tiny little pearl-like balls: these sweet treats are full of goodness, and perfect to satisfy a sweet craving, just one at a time though…. Moderation required!