It wouldn’t be Christmas without someone re-gifting a few words of wisdom about how to survive the silly season. HFG dispels food and drink myths so you can have your happiest, healthiest Christmas yet.
Myth #1 Eating nuts makes you fat
Despite the high kilojoule and fat content of nuts, studies show people who regularly snack on them find it easier to manage their weight — possibly because the fibre and protein in nuts keep you feeling full, so you snack less. Nuts need a lot of chewing, too, which releases appetite-controlling hormones.
Newer research also shows we don’t digest or absorb all of the fat from nuts, probably because their cell walls are hard to penetrate, so we get fewer kilojoules than expected.
Australian research reveals that if we choose nuts, not crisps, we may also eat less food at our next meal. So, enjoy a small handful — and where possible, opt for the unsalted varieties.
Myth #2 Lying down after eating is better for digestion
Unfortunately, that post-Christmas buffet nap is not great for digestion. For some people, lying down (or even reclining in a chair) can cause symptoms of reflux and indigestion. This occurs when stomach acid travels up the oesophagus, causing an uncomfortable, burning sensation.
Our bodies are made to digest food in an upright position, so rather than drifting off into a post-lunch food coma, do some gentle activity. Go for a family stroll, or take the kids to the park for a game of cricket to burn off energy. Even doing the dishes and clearing dirty plates counts — just get moving!
Getting active will help ease indigestion, and studies show that walking for 30 minutes after a meal will help manage blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.
Myth #3 A greasy meal helps soak up alcohol
A kebab might sound like a good idea at midnight, but it won’t sober you up. Once consumed, alcohol is digested and enters the bloodstream, regardless of how much food you eat. Bread and other food can slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, but they don’t prevent drunkenness.
Keep in mind, if you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, you’ll feel its effects faster. Eat a light, satisfying meal beforehand — such as avo on toast or a chicken wrap — and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Myth #4 If it smells okay, it’s safe to eat
Most Christmas fridges are bursting with pre-packed foods like dips, cream, bags of salad and fresh seafood, plus dishes we’ve cooked ourselves, such as hams, stuffing and trifle.
Nearly six out of 10 people admit to using the ‘sniff’ test — simply smelling meat, poultry and fish to decide if it’s safe to eat. The problem is, most food poisoning bugs are odourless! That’s why the ‘use by’ is there. If the food is still in date and stored according to the pack instructions, it’s likely to be safe to eat. If the ‘use by‘ date has passed, it’s more likely to be unsafe to eat — so throw it away.
Home-cooked food should always be consumed within two-to-three days. If you won’t be eating it within that time, pop it in the freezer instead. For more food safety tips, turn to page 88.
Myth #5 Cheese at night means nightmares
There’s no scientific evidence that cheese causes nightmares. The myth came from A Christmas Carol , where Ebenezer Scrooge initially blamed ‘a crumb of cheese’ for his ghostly night-time encounters.
In reality, cheese may assist better sleep. It contains a nutrient called tryptophan, which boosts brain levels of the sleep-inducing and calming hormone called serotonin.
In an unpublished study by the British Cheese Board, 200 volunteers ate 20g of hard cheese 30 minutes before bed, every night for a week. Three-quarters said that they had a good night’s sleep, no one reported any nightmares and two-thirds remembered their dreams.
There is, however, lots of evidence that large amounts of high-fat food can cause indigestion, which in turn will affect sleep quality. So stick to small amounts, and wait 2–3 hours after eating it before going to bed.
Myth #6 Skipping brekkie saves kJs for later
Don’t skip breakfast to make room for festive fare. Going hungry just makes those chocolates, mince pies and shortbread harder to resist — and these foods contain more kilojoules, fat and sugar, and fewer nutrients than youll consume in a typical breakfast.
Rather than turning up to your Christmas lunch famished, start the day with a light, yet balanced breakfast. A fruit and yoghurt smoothie combines energising B-vitamins with filling fibre to put a brake on overeating.
Myth #7 ‘Hair of the dog’ cures hangovers
Having another drink may help, sometimes — but the results are only temporary. Why? Hangovers are partly caused by a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism called methanol. When you knock back a beer or a vodka the next day, the body’s enzymes, which have been busily breaking down methanol, will switch to work on the fresh alcohol. This means the breakdown of methanol is left until later. Unfortunately the reprieve will soon wear off — and your hangover could be back with a vengeance!
Instead, reach for a couple of glasses of water, then pop the kettle on and make a coffee! Caffeine (combined with an aspirin) reacts against one of the chemicals thats created by the breakdown of alcohol — a chemical partly responsible for causing headaches.
Eat something as soon as you can, too. Alcohol lowers blood sugar, which can leave you tired and irritable. So bring your levels back to normal with slow-release carbs like wholemeal toast or porridge. Surprisingly, some evidence now suggests eggs might ease that ‘morning after’ feeling too. (So granddad was right!)
Myth #8 You can’t dodge xmas weight gain
Australians gain 0.8–1.5kg on average over the Christmas period. It might not sound much, but researchers report that holiday weight gain is rarely lost.
Let’s be real: December is not the best month for most people to focus on weight loss. Focus instead on weight maintenance and you’ll enjoy the festive season without the guilt. Try these three easy strategies:
Downsize your plate
Research shows the larger the plate, the more food dished up — and the more food eaten.
Fill half your plate with salad first
Fill up on low-kilojoule foods to reduce the amount you eat at the buffet.
Use tall, skinny glasses
A US study found that people pour 20–30 per cent more alcohol into wide, short tumblers than tall, slender glasses that hold the same volume.
How to survive the silly season
Try these five strategies to sail through the festive period with more energy ...
Drinking enough water can make a big difference to how you feel. Aim for about eight glasses a day.
Get enough sleep
Poor-quality sleep is one of the main reasons people feel low in energy. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and screens before you hit the sack, and allow time to relax and unwind.
It’s easy to reach for leftover chocolate, but it’ll leave you with a sugar crash. Go for nuts, high-fibre muesli bars, vegie sticks, yoghurt and cheese on wholegrain crackers.
Research shows exercise can improve mood and relieve stress. Do it in the morning, before you can make excuses.
Alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain — so if you’re prone to the blues, Christmas (with its stressors) isn’t the time to attempt to self-medicate with booze.