For me, Christmas or the mid-winter celebration is a wonderful time of year. Not just because the child in me is as excited about the tree, twinkling lights and letters to father Christmas, like my own children, but because it can also be a time of abundant nourishment and gratitude.
It is a time to unwind and repair at the end of a year and a time to prepare and restore for the next 12 months to come. Nurturing your body and mind creates the foundation stones for both of these tasks. So here are my top tips for making Christmas a time of nourishment and not indulgence.
1. Simple, healthy swaps
The traditional Christmas meal is in fact very healthy (it's just the little treats that surround it that tend to add that festive heaviness). Nuts are in prime season at this time so choose walnuts slowly baked with rosemary and a pinch of rock salt instead of crisps, or strips of smoked trout or avocado on rye bread. Try swapping the mulled wine for a toddy. This makes the perfect after-dinner sipper. Lower in calories and sugar, it also combines the warming spices and remedial properties of cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest.
2. Start the day on the right foot
Start the day with a good quality protein breakfast. This will set you up for the rest of the day, regulating your appetite and reducing those temptations for the sugar-laden goods on offer. It will also support the body’s production of useable energy avoiding the mid afternoon slumps. The options I give my clients are poached eggs on steamed spinach, or poached salmon and avocado on rye or sourdough bread. Greek yoghurt with homemade blackberry and spice compote (see recipe here) is also a great breakfast to start the morning well.
3. Don't be tempted to skip meals
It is very tempting to start skipping meals to cut down on calories. This is possibly the worst thing you can do. Avoid all shop bought low-calorie meals, they are often high in sugar and low in nourishment meaning you just feel hungry later on. Instead choose small, regular meals, eating every four hours and always including a source of healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil/flaxseed oil, avocados), and a source of lean protein (pulses, fish, nuts, seeds, turkey, chicken, game).
4. Support your digestion
Starting the day with a mug of warm water with a capful of apple cider vinegar with a little honey has also been shown to support digestion, most especially of fatty, heavier foods. Support liver function with foods such as beetroot, artichokes, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and chicory. Broccoli can improve the release of bile, an essential element in the digestion of fatty, rich foods. Taking a supplement to specifically support the liver can also support this process.
5. Easing the pressure
Known as nature’s tranquiliser, magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in your body and is leached by factors such as alcohol, stress, coffee, antacids and the contraceptive pill. Sleeping issues, anxiety and menstrual cramps have improved with the use of magnesium. Nourish yourself with magnesium-rich foods including pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, wheat germ, oats, millet, buckwheat, avocado, barley, brown rice, kelp, collard greens, kale, figs and dates, or support yourself with a good multi-nutrient supplement. (See 'Magnesium: are you getting enough').
A study published in the journal Gastroenterology earlier this year demonstrated the protective effects of probiotics on stress-related digestive disorders such as IBS. The researchers revealed that stress alters the level of beneficial flora in the gut by inducing intestinal inflammation that often leads to cramping and diarrhoea. However taking probiotics reversed the effects. Look for a multi-strain probiotic, with a high CFU count and if probiotics leave you feeling bloated, choose a product without FOS.
Wishing you all a healthy and peaceful Christmas.