IT’S Christmas day. Merry Christmas! At Christmas, we all like to be around those who love us, and those we love, receive presents, and be merry and full of good cheer. Cooking, eating and drinking are common activities associated with the festive season, however, this inadvertently creates room for unexpected health and wellness consequences from constipation and diarrhoea to heartburn and a hangover. As the felicitations get under way, as you eat, drink and be merry, be aware that knowing how and when to deal with these problems is certainly a welcome exercise. Heartburn You know it too well – that fiery sensation that grabs hold of your lower chest after you eat something you know you shouldn’t have. What often follows is that sour or bitter taste of acid reflux in your throat and mouth that can last minutes (if you are lucky) or hours (if you are not).With fatty foods, alcohol and big meals being common triggers of heartburn, it’s easy to see why Christmas festivities might bring on that unpleasant burning sensation in your chest and the acid taste at the back of your throat. Heartburn affects around one in five people over 50 is commonly a result of a weakening of the oesophageal muscle, the one that sits between your stomach and oesophagus. If your stomach is full, or if you bend over after having eaten a lot, you might find yourself suffering with it Tip: Avoid the classic heartburn-inviting situations such as coffee and liquor to tomatoes and grapefruit. Anything that promotes production of saliva including foods like broiled chicken, baked sweet potatoes, toast, or cottage cheese, is on the safe side of the heartburn food list. Hangovers Hangovers can happen when your body gets too much bad liquid (alcohol) and not enough of the good kind (water). Christmas is a time of indulgence and with free-flowing mulled wine and alcoholic beverages, not to mention egg nog and beer; it’s no wonder that hangovers are a main feature of the holiday season. Add to that the fact that many people drink types of alcohol they are not used to and so it’s difficult to judge whether you’re drinking too much or not. Tip: Know your limits. Drink sensibly and stick with one type of alcohol. Mixing drinks is your worst enemy when it comes to hangovers. Avoid “diet” mixers like the plague. Be careful with champagne and sparkling wine. Choose light liquors and alternate alcoholic drinks with water. Weight gain Research has revealed that Christmas on its own won’t cause you to pile on the kilos but over the longer festive season, through December and beyond into January, it’s common to add several inches to your waistline. On the average, one person consumes around 6,000 calories on Christmas day, which are enough nutrients to last 2-3 days. Most people don’t just over-eat on Christmas day. They indulge in leftovers that can last for days. So it’s no surprise, weight gain over Christmas is common and it can be difficult to shift. Don’t constantly graze on plantain chips, potato crisps and chocolates as they tend to be very high in calories and fat. Stop eating just as you start to feel full. Tip: One way of not letting the eating get out of control, is to stick to normal meal times. Start with a healthy breakfast, preferably one that is going to keep you full for a while, such as boiled yam with egg sauce/stew; yam porridge/pottage; boiled oats or pap with moin moin or akara; etc. This way you won’t be tempted to dip into the snacks as much before lunch and dinner. Food poisoning Don’t wash the chicken! It seems like a sensible thing to do but washing poultry without splashing in other parts of the sink and kitchen is very difficult. Your sponge, cutting board, knife, your dish rack, etc., could get contaminated and as a result you could get diarrhoea or worse. Other common sources include snacks or hors d’oeuvre that have been left out in warm temperatures for too long or are contaminated with some kind of bacteria from other people. Tip: To prevent food poisoning, wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly (within two hours of purchase or preparation) and defrost food safely. Bloating/constipation All year long you eat fibre-rich healthy foods, making sure you get plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You also make sure you get regular exercise. Then, all of a sudden you swallow high-fat high-calorie foods, sit in an armchair watching TV all afternoon, and expect your body to cope with it as usual. Which is why rather than feeling like a special treat, a Christmas dinner can leave you wishing for a looser pair of trousers and a way to politely release all that painful gas. Tip: Increase amount of fibre in your diet, drink plenty of fluids, take fruits, ensure regular bowel movements and exercise regularly. Burns How often have you cooked a whole chicken or turkey this year? Probably not much, so it’s hardly surprising that people often suffer with cooking burns at Christmas. Handling heavy hot frying pans and roasting tins without proper protective oven gloves, hurrying to make sure everything is ready at the same time or straying from the kitchen while things are on the boil, and even enjoying a glass of wine while cooking all add up to making Christmas dinner a risky business. Tip: To reduce burns risks, never leave items cooking on the stove unattended. Turn pot handles toward the rear of the stove. Keep hot liquids out of the reach of children and pets. Keep electrical appliances away from water and test food temperatures before serving. Watch the bird Snacks are just a side-show. The main event of Christmas dinner is the turkey or chicken and although it’s never going to be a low calorie affair, there are ways of making it a healthier meal. Whatever bird you choose to cook and serve — duck, chicken, goose or turkey—they all are rich in protein and fat-soluble vitamins, which are essential for muscle repair and neuron function. Although the skin of turkey, goose or chicken is delicious, avoid eating it as it’s really high in fat. If you use the juices from the bird to make gravy, let it stand so that that fat rises to the top where it can be skimmed off and discarded. Between turkey and chicken, Turkey is the leaner meat and possibly the healthier option with significantly less fat than duck or goose. Before cooking, prick the skin of the bird so that fat can drain out. Tip: Consider a nut roast. Aside from being rich in healthy unsaturated fats, nuts are also a good source of protein, fibre and a host of micronutrients. Eat vegetables Christmas dinner is an ideal time for eating lots of vegetables, but make sure they’re cooked healthily. When you cook your veggies, cook them in the minimum amount of time with the minimum amount of water. Boil until they are tender, not soft. Don’t overcook and don’t be tempted to add butter/cream once they’re cooked. Use the cooking water to make gravy with, because then it’s like eating soup. You get all the goodness out of it. If you’re using fresh vegetables, store them in a cool, dark place to preserve the nutrients, and don’t snub frozen vegetables. They’re often every bit as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Tip: When it is time for dinner, pile your plate with vegetables because it will leave less room for high fat foods. Use fresh vegetables with low fat dips instead. Staying active With all that eating, don’t be tempted by the sofa or sit in front of the TV. Most people take a nap or watch television after a big meal, but that’s the worst thing you can do. Practise “mindful eating”. Don’t eat in front of the TV because you won’t notice how much you’re eating. Let the food digest a bit and then get out and move. Try and get out and about. Be physically active. A walk around the neighbourhood shortly after a meal is a good way to stay healthy. Tip: Go for a brisk 15 minute walk half an hour after your Christmas lunch or dinner. Christmas is fun, it’s enjoyable, go for it but don’t go on and on and on. Enjoy the day, but remember moderation is key. Bon appétit. Merry Christmas!