Whatever you celebrate at this time – Christmas, Channukah, Kwanzaa or just the holidays - will be accompanied by overeating and, let’s be honest, ‘overdrinking’. Then comes January 2nd and you’ll be consumed with feelings of guilt; guilt because of gluttony, because of weight gain or because you ignored your chronic disease. Diabetics will worry about their blood sugar which catapulted to 17 or more; those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure will panic at anything that seems like the beginning of a heart attack or stroke, and those with heart disease may justify their dietary excesses by musing, “after all, this was probably my last Christmas and New Year’s eve”.
Is there a way to enjoy the treats, and all the parties, without putting our health in jeopardy? There is – if you’re willing to make an effort and if you’re willing to exercise self-control.
Everything you put into your mouth gets into your blood and eventually makes its way to every cell in your body - thus affecting every tissue and every organ. People often say, “I’ll enjoy the holidays, afterwards I’ll go back on my diabetes diet” [or something like that]. Keep in mind that your blood doesn’t wait for January 2nd – it readily distributes the “bad food and drink” to all your cells, thus the damage continues.
Now, let’s take a look at cholesterol. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is so vital for good mental and physical health, that the body manufactures it (even when we don’t eat it). Cholesterol is a necessary part of all body and brain cells. LDL-cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad cholesterol’, is also important because it transports cholesterol that is made in the liver to cells in the rest of the body and brain. Excess LDL-cholesterol leads to hardening of the arteries (blood vessels) and this can lead to heart attack, stroke and impotence in men – this is why it is called ‘bad’ fat.
For most people it is not the cholesterol in our food that raises the ‘bad’ cholesterol in our blood – it is the saturated and trans fats that we eat. Worse yet, trans fats also reduce the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol in our blood – the HDL-cholesterol. Animal products generally have higher levels of saturated fats than most vegetable products. Beef, ham, turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, fish are things we love to pile high on our plates – and we love them even more when they are fried! We by-pass the vegetable salads and fruit platters choosing instead deep-fried donuts, cookies, pies and desserts made with peanuts or other nuts; these contain generous amounts of saturated and trans fats.
So, how can we enjoy this festive season without loading up on bad fats and excess sugar? Here are some easy ‘health tricks’ that you can try.
- Eat a lot more fibre - fruits, vegetables, peas, beans and whole grains – throughout the season. Before you head out to each party, eat a couple fresh fruits or a big handful of dried fruits or a large salad and drink 2 glasses of water.
- When you serve your food, make sure that half your plate (or more) is full of vegetables, peas, beans or grains. Eat this first. Don’t pile your plate high with meat and starch – you’ll overwhelm your liver and the excess calories will be turned into fat (weight gain)!
- Choose more fruits and less cake or ice cream for dessert. When purchasing ice cream, choose the brand that has the lowest fat content. Sugar-free is also recommended. Sherbets are great too – and so low in fat!
- Even if you think you can’t dance – get up and shake to the music; if you have arthritis in your knee, dance while sitting. The more you move your body, the more calories you’ll burn. Movement will also clear excess sugar and ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood. It will help you to relax and this will lower your blood pressure. Movement/exercise will bring more oxygen into your body – you’ll start breathing deeper – this will definitely make your brain work better. So, shake your body – shake, shake, shake! Shake your booty.
- For two or three days after the party, or large Christmas dinner, eat twice your normal amount of fruits (fresh or dried) and vegetables, high fibre cereals and whole grains to ‘wash’ the bad fats out of your body. Increase your activity – take brisk walks, cycle, dance, ice skate, anything to burn up the extra calories, lower your blood sugar and reduce the bad fats in your blood.
- Don’t forget to drink about 10 glasses of fluids every day – skim milk, coffee, tea, 100% juice, diet pop, smoothies – but not alcohol. Alcohol is almost as fattening as fat itself. Drinking this much fluids will help both your bowels and brain to work better.
- Finally – let moderation be your mantra. Everything … in moderation.