Balancing the scales at Christmas

ANDREW MAY
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2012
christmas cupcakes
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TREAT TIME: Treats are ok, as long as they stay occasional.

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The festive season is upon us once again ... how did that happen so quickly?

I feel like it was only yesterday that I was putting up the Christmas tree, looking forward to a massive Christmas day feast and tucking into Mum's plum pudding. Not to mention all the boozy corporate Christmas parties and client lunches. And while I love the atmosphere and joyous spirit that the festive season brings, it's also important to keep a bit of balance in relation to what you put into your mouth over the coming weeks.

The last thing I'm going to do is be a killjoy and tell you to only eat alfalfa sprouts and activated almonds leading up tol Christmas. But try the following tips to help you stay at least a little bit 'balanced' until Santa visits.

STEP 1: STAY HYDRATED

The truth is, without water pulsing through our bodies we would eventually be poisoned by our own waste products. Water is vital for chemical reactions in digestion and metabolism. It carries nutrients and oxygen to cells through the bloodstream and helps to cool the body through perspiration. Put simply, water is essential for optimum health and wellbeing.

As we age our ability to gauge hydration levels reduces and we can be dehydrated and not even realise. To stay hydrated this festive season, try to consume the right amount of water daily. Recent studies have shown that active males and females need to consume 44 millilitres of water per kilogram of body weight a day to stay adequately hydrated and 33ml/kg body weight during inactive days. For example, a male who is 70kg should consume 3080ml of water on an active day and 2310 on an inactive day. A 50kg woman should consume 2200ml water on an active day and 1650ml on an inactive day. This is a lot more than most people realise.

STEP 2: RATE YOUR HUNGER

I'm what you would call a 'grazer', meaning I eat regularly throughout the day. By itself, this isn't a bad thing as eating regularly is actually good for your metabolism. But over Christmas when there are chocolate-coated macadamias and a bevvy of unhealthy (but delicious) food options available, our normal healthy diet cops a beating.

Rate your hunger on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being very hungry and 10 being stuffed. As a general guide, put the brakes on and stop eating once you reach 6 to 7 on the scale, before you feel totally stuffed.

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STEP 3: SNACK SMART

Salted nuts and pretzels. Delicious, mouth-watering chocolates. Scrumptious canapés. The temptation to eat loads of treats either side of Christmas can sometimes be irresistible, especially when you're busy, rushed or stressed. For this reason, the festive season is prime time for people to fall off the healthy eating wagon. But don't panic, there are things that you can eat over Christmas that will keep you full and bursting with energy.

Try snacking on a tub of low-fat or Greek yoghurt, carrot and celery sticks with a hummus dip, unsalted nuts (stick to a handful), fruit kebabs (kiwi fruit, green apples, grapes, strawberries, watermelon), vegie kebabs (cherry tomatoes, capsicum, snow peas, cucumber) and unsalted, unbuttered popcorn.

Don't forget as well, healthy eating isn't about torturing yourself with vegetables and 'green things' day in and day out. A healthy diet can contain treats. Just make sure you balance them out.

STEP 4: DRINK ALCOHOL RESPONSIBLY

For many of us, Christmas is synonymous with cold beer and chilled wine. And while alcohol is fine in moderation for most people, it's important to keep an eye on your intake to make sure you don't go overboard. Too much alcohol consumption can quickly lead to weight gain and bloating, as well as poor sleep and reduced feelings of wellness (not to mention the hangovers).

The National Health and Medical Research Centre Council has guidelines that provide acceptable levels of drinking over time and levels for occasional 'heavy' drinking days.

For men, it suggests having no more than three to four standard drinks a day and no more than 28 standard drinks over a week. For women, no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than 14 standard drinks over a week. For occasional 'heavy' drinking, they recommend no more than six standard drinks during any one occasion for men, and no more than four for women. They also suggest having one or two alcohol-free days per week.

I'm going to try and take control of my nutrition this festive season and reduce the amount of crap I eat. Will you do the same?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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