It’s easy to get confused when it comes to health and nutrition and Christmas always seems to throw many of us off track. Even qualified experts often seem to hold opposing opinions, which can make it difficult to figure out what you should actually be doing to optimise your health especially when coming in to the busy and chaotic Christmas period.
Sugary drinks like soft drinks, fruit juices, and sweetened teas are the primary source of added sugar in our diets.
Unfortunately, findings from several studies point to sugar-sweetened beverages increasing risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, even in people who are not carrying excess body fat.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are also uniquely harmful for children, as they can contribute not only to obesity in children but also to conditions that usually do not develop until adulthood, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Healthier alternatives include:
- unsweetened teas
- sparkling water
Some people avoid nuts because they are high in fat. However, nuts and seeds are incredibly nutritious. They are packed with protein, fibre, and a variety of vitamins and minerals
Nuts may help you lose weight and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Additionally, one large observational study noted that a low intake of nuts and seeds was potentially linked to an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes so my advice is "go nuts"!!!
Ultra-processed foods are foods containing ingredients that are significantly modified from their original form. They often contain additives like added sugar, highly refined oil, salt, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors as well.
- snack cakes
- fast food
- frozen meals
- canned foods
Ultra-processed foods are highly palatable, meaning they are easily overeaten, and activate reward-related regions in the brain, which can lead to excess calorie consumption and weight gain. Studies show that diets high in ultra-processed food can contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
In addition to low quality ingredients like inflammatory fats, added sugar, and refined grains they’re usually low in fibre, protein, and micronutrients. Thus, they provide mostly what we call empty calories. Think of the time you had a meal from one of the fast food giants and remember how a short period of time later you felt hungry again!!!
Despite some controversy over it, coffee is loaded with health benefits.
It’s rich in antioxidants, and some studies have linked coffee intake to longevity and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and numerous other illnesses.
The most beneficial intake amount appears to be 3–4 cups per day, although pregnant people should limit or avoid it completely because it has been linked to low birth weight.
However, it’s best to consume coffee and any caffeine-based items in moderation. Excessive caffeine intake may lead to health issues like insomnia and heart palpitations. To enjoy coffee in a safe and healthy way, keep your intake to less than 4 cups per day and avoid high-calorie, high-sugar additives like sweetened creamer.
Fish is a great source of high-quality protein and healthy fat. This is particularly true of fatty fish, such as salmon, which is loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and various other nutrients.
Studies show that people who eat fish regularly have a lower risk for several conditions, including heart disease, dementia, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The importance of getting enough quality sleep cannot be overstated.
Poor sleep can drive insulin resistance, can disrupt your appetite hormones, and reduce your physical and mental performance.
What’s more, poor sleep is one of the strongest individual risk factors for weight gain and obesity. People who do not get enough sleep tend to make food choices that are higher in fat, sugar, and calories, potentially leading to unwanted weight gain.
When you’re exposed to bright lights — which contain blue light wavelengths — in the evening, it may disrupt your production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Some ways to help reduce your blue light exposure is to wear blue light blocking glasses — especially if you use a computer or other digital screen for long periods of time — and to avoid digital screens for 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed.
This can help your body better produce melatonin naturally as evening progresses, helping you sleep better.
The bacteria in your gut, collectively called the gut microbia, are incredibly important for overall health.
A disruption in gut bacteria is linked to some chronic diseases, including obesity and a myriad of digestive problems.
Good ways to improve gut health include eating probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, taking a probiotic supplement — when indicated — and eating plenty of fibre. Notably, fibre serves as a prebiotic, or a food source for your gut bacteria.
Hydration is an important and often overlooked marker of health. Staying hydrated helps ensure that your body is functioning optimally and that your blood volume is sufficient.
Good old fashioned water is the best way to stay hydrated, as it’s free of calories, sugar, and additives.
Although there’s no set amount that everyone needs per day, aim to drink enough so that your thirst is adequately quenched.
Vegetables and fruits are loaded with prebiotic fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, many of which have potent health effects.
Studies show that people who eat more vegetables and fruits tend to live longer and have a lower risk for heart disease, obesity, and other illnesses.
Eating enough protein is vital for optimal health, as it provides the raw materials your body needs to create new cells and tissues.
What’s more, this nutrient is particularly important for maintenance of a moderate body weight.
High protein intake may boost your metabolic rate — or calorie burn — while making you feel full. It may also reduce cravings and your desire to snack late at night.
Doing aerobic exercise, or cardio, is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health.
It’s particularly effective at reducing belly fat, the harmful type of fat that builds up around your organs. Reduced belly fat may lead to major improvements in your metabolic health.
We should strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.
So there you have it, 12 tips to help you through the upcoming Christmas period and ensures that you hit the ground running in 2022.