Not if you follow a few simple tips says a University of South Australia (UniSA) nutritional expert.
UniSA Associate Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition Dr Jennifer Keogh says a few easy strategies can help people to healthily navigate the feasting of the festive season.
“Put yourself on the scales at the beginning of the Christmas period and keep track of your weight, a few kilos might not seem like much but over many years it can add up and become a real health issue,” Dr Keogh says.
“Weight gain can happen quickly. There is Australian research, in more than 8000 women, showing that in just two years 33 per cent of the women in the study had gained more that 2kg.
“A short term indulgence is not necessarily problematic but the festive season seems to be starting earlier and finishing later, so be mindful of the length of time over which you’re eating ‘indulgence’ foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat and high in energy.
“Research shows that health risks associated with weight gain and obesity such as diabetes and heart disease are occurring earlier in life, so instead of spending January at the sales shopping for clothes in the next size up, the emphasis should be on how to lose any weight gained,” she says.
Dr Keogh, who contributed to the CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing Diet, says keeping alcohol consumption under control is one way to stave off weight gain.
“One gram of fat contains nine calories while one gram of alcohol contains seven calories, so consuming just ten grams of alcohol or one standard drink contains 70 calories from the alcohol alone,” Dr Keogh says.
For those preparing the food, she suggests combining traditional items with healthy options so no one feels like they’re missing out on the fun.
“Offering fresh fruits like mangoes and berries with dessert or having seafood, which is generally low fat and low in calories and contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids, in place of high fat meats is a great way to get people to eat a little more healthily while still feeling like they’re having a treat,” she says.
“Greek yogurt, which contains 10 per cent fat, is a great tasting alternative to serving cream, which contains 35 per cent fat.
“Putting food away when people have finished eating is also a good way to stop ‘grazing,’ where people tend to eat just because the food is there in front of them.
“Using non-stick pans and baking trays or roasting bags and choosing foods with the Heart Foundation tick of approval is another effective way of reducing the amount of fat and salt in a meal.”
Overall, Dr Keogh says the key lies in keeping the message positive and fun while incorporating small changes as part of a healthier lifestyle.
“Incorporating activity and exercise into your family celebrations can be a great way of taking the emphasis away from food – it’s a great opportunity to go for a picnic or play a game of cricket with the kids and make use of our fantastic parks and facilities when the weather’s nice,” Dr Keogh says.
UniSA Associate Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition Dr Jennifer Keogh’s top tips for beating the Christmas bulge:
Weigh yourself at the beginning of the festive season and keep an eye on weight gain.
Be aware of how long you overindulge over Christmas.
Combine traditional meal items with healthy options like fresh fruit and seafood.
Offer Greek/plain yogurt as an alternative to cream.
Use non-stick pans and baking trays or roasting bags to limit the amount of salt, sugar and fat added to food.
Don’t leave food out where people will be tempted to ‘graze’ outside of meal times.
Choose unsalted nuts over salted treats.
Have plenty of water handy as a healthy option for parching salt-related thirst.
Look for the Heart Foundation tick of approval when buying food.
Incorporate fun activities and exercise into family celebrations to help work off calories consumed.
Be aware that alcohol is a concentrated source of energy and limit your alcohol intake.
For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
To see the new national guidelines for alcohol consumption in full visit www.health.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/guide-adult