Sunday September 25th 2022

Beat those festive kilojoules

Painless ways to pick the right foods for your Christmas plate!

For most of us, Christmas is an excuse to ditch the diet, indulge in second helpings, drown our food in rich, oozy sauces and knock back a few too many glasses of wine or champagne. After all, the festive season is only once a year, right?

Perhaps, says registered dietitian Priya Seetal, but you’d be horrified to know how many thousands of extra kilojoules you’re packing onto your plate (and body) just to satisfy a greedy appetite!

“The more kilojoules we consume, the greater chance we have of putting on weight,” says Seetal.

“Many of the foods eaten at this time of year are also high in saturated fat and salt, which is not good for the heart. They can also cause high blood glucose levels for all of us, but especially people with diabetes, as portion control is difficult to maintain.”

When we eat rich party food during festive celebrations, we usually drink more alcohol too – and this can cause severe hangovers, a consequence of abusing your body beyond its limits, and of course, impaired driving capacity.

“With celebrations at work, home and holidays with family, food and alcohol become the centre of all activities,” warns Seetal. “More time is spent mall shopping, where we grab a cup of coffee with cake, eat an ice-cream or sit down for a restaurant meal before going home.

“December is also salary bonus month! With more money flowing, there’s an increased chance of eating out and purchasing foods high in fat, such as ready-prepared meals.”

So, how do we avoid feeling miserable and deprived around the Christmas table? What’s the point of enjoying our grandmother’s traditional table-heavy celebration with the family if we’re stuck with water and lettuce while everybody else tucks in to juicy lamb chops, turkey and coleslaw?

There are healthier alternatives to the usual festive fare – and it also helps to know just how many extra kilojoules are in your favourite, fatty foods, as this will motivate you to make wiser choices.

Festive food Kilojoules Fat content (grams) Healthier alternative
Roast chicken piece (with skin) 800 10.9 Cook without skin, save 300 kilojoules
Barbecued lamb chop (with fat) 1105 21.8 Remove fat and save 500 kilojoules
Sirloin steak (with fat) 1910 36.5 With fat removed, save a whopping 1000 kilojoules; fat reduced to 8.9
Coleslaw (3 tbsps) 91.3 6.6 Make with low-fat mayo and use less of it – or mix half low-fat yoghurt and half-mayo
Wine (1 glass) 523 0 Enjoy a sangria with fruit – great for a hot, summer’s day! Or have a spritzer
Bread roll (buttered) 748 Lose the spread and save 160kj
Mash (portion) 277.2 9 Use low-fat milk; lose the margarine/butter; or bake/ boil potatoes served with low-fat cottage cheese
Chocolate cake (5cm slice) +/- 900 10 Tinned fruit/low fat custard
Chocolate bar (100g) 1927 20 As above, or 5 medium apricots or 7 litchies or 1 punnet strawberries. Jelly babies / Sparkles are a fat-free alternative for sweets
Crisps (1 pkt) 800 13 Rice cakes or corn thins with a low-fat spread; popcorn; vegetable crudités
Ice-cream (one portion) 841 11 Fruit sorbet

Top tips for healthy eating

With a little savvy discipline, you really can fit into your jeans after Christmas – without feeling deprived of delicious treats!

Seetal suggests tried and trusted methods for managing your health and diet during the festive season.

  • Use a smaller plate. It’s not always what’s on your plate, but how big a portion you’ve chosen, that causes weight gain. Instead of giving up your favourite holiday foods, simply use a smaller plate and eat less.
  • Alter recipes. If you’re in charge of cooking, you have the upper hand. Use low-fat ingredients such as low-fat milk, cheeses and sour cream – nobody will notice the difference! Remember too that the more colourful your plate, the more fruits and vegetables you’re packing in.
  • Eat before you go. Don’t arrive at parties on an empty stomach unless you want to end up overeating. It’s like letting a child loose in a candy store, since lots of the food will be different and you might end up sampling everything.
  • Learn to say no. So, you’ve made it through dinner, doing your best to make the healthiest choices possible, but now here comes Aunty Thandeka with her famous trifle. Even if you’re not tempted by the dessert, how do you say no to someone you love, or who won’t take no for an answer? It’s simple – don’t make excuses. Simply say : “It looks great! But no thank-you – I don’t eat dessert.” Eventually, people will stop asking you.
  • Keep yourself active. A key component to good health is exercise. Moving around and staying active is even more important over the festive season, so do dishes instead of slumping in front of the television, walk or swim at the beach and dance at parties.
  • Forgive yourself! If you do surrender to temptation, don’t beat yourself up about it; just get back on track the following day. One over-indulgent evening will not destroy all the previous days on which you maintained healthy habits.

Cheat’s guide to eating ‘lite’ on the side

Registered dietitian Sue Scharf says swapping favourite festive foods for healthier ones, without losing flavour, is not only possible – it’s easy!

“Have boiled or steamed rice rather than garlic bread, for example, or make a low-fat white sauce for your creamed spinach. Even better, use mashed potato and onion and a little butter with the spinach,” suggests Scharf.

“Have a green salad with cucumber, avocado, feta plus a low-oil dressing to lower fat content. You can also roast or grill potatoes using very little oil.”

For puddings, choose skim milk or low fat custard made with skim milk or lite evaporated milk and tinned fruit, or make a colourful fresh fruit salad and add tennis biscuits or even digestive biscuits, which are lower in fat and higher in fibre.

If you’re giving food as a gift, don’t go for traditional treats such as chocolates, sweets and biscuits. Rather give boiled or jelly sweets and marshmallows, if you must, or make up a beautiful fresh fruit hamper!

Choose grilled chicken and lean ham as these are low fat, or whip up some baby potato salad or a roasted version (put 1 tbsp olive oil in roasting pan, place in oven and heat to 180 degrees Celsius SUBS SORRY:CAN’T FIND DEGREE KEY, remove pan and swirl around the fat, pouring off excess, then add your potatoes and roll them in the greased pan before roasting).

Keeping control when out and about

If you’re joining friends and family for a social meal, stick to your usual daily menu, says Scharf – don’t starve yourself ahead of the big party!

When you arrive at the venue, you’ll be pleasantly hungry instead of famished and bear in mind that supper may be later than usual, so schedule a healthy snack to ward off temptation.

Casually ask your host or hostess in advance about the menu and then if necessary, alert him or her, tactfully, to your dietary needs or offer to bring a few extras so that you don’t inconvenience everyone.

“Look for a balance of carbohydrates and protein – this way, one is more satisfied and the attention is focused on the social occasion, rather than just the food,” suggests Scharf.

“Enjoy the company and entertainment, drink plenty of water and don’t overeat, as this leaves you feeling uncomfortable.”

At restaurants, the same rules apply, although you have more leeway since you’re a paying client. Be specific about your requirements, phone ahead your order if you’d rather not explain your dietary preferences in front of others and don’t necessarily use weight loss as reasons for your choices – say that you’re avoiding diabetes, high cholesterol or had a recent stomach upset.

Clever tricks for reducing kilojoules when eating out include :

  • Salad dressing or gravy on the side
  • Butter/sour cream on the side
  • Pizza with only half the cheese
  • Grilled or poached fish or seafood (mayo on the side!)
  • Steamed rice or baked potatoes or steamed veggies instead of chips, fried rice or roast potatoes OR have a salad (dressing on the side)
  • Two forks for dessert (one for you, one for a companion) – and no cream
  • Drink a spritzer instead of wine, be sure there is a bottle of mineral water on the table to sip on throughout the meal (this reduces the amount of alcohol consumed)

The global table

Fancy Italian? Choose pasta with an arabiata or napoletana sauce, salad and a helping of bread.

Choosing Chinese? Ask for stirfry meat, fish or poultry plus a helping of steamed rice.

Going for Greek? A meat or chicken kebab with rice and vegetables OR a pita with salad and beans will be both satisfying and healthy. Source : Sue Scharf, registered dietitian.

© Beth Cooper, 2010.