It is Christmas, a time of feasting, and dieting is the last thing on your mind.
You do not have to be a party pooper, but applying some restraint may go a long way in keeping off any seasonal weight gain.
There may be a lot of hidden sugars in food, particularly decadent Christmas offerings, that you may unknowingly consume.
Besides, over-indulgence during the festive season can trigger acid reflux problems and indigestion, says Dr Kristie Fan, an associate consultant at the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at National University Hospital (NUH).
“This occurs with overeating, especially with rich, heavy meals that predominate during the festive period,” she adds.
“Be mindful of the size of your meal and avoid seconds.”
Ms Bibi Chia, the principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, says that people may not be aware that there is added sugar in foods such as honey and agave nectar.
Dr Lim Su Lin, the chief dietitian at National University Hospital, adds that hidden sugars are ingredients in food and drinks that are not labelled as such but can contribute lots of calories and blood sugar surge.
“Some foods don’t have the word ‘sugar’ in the ingredients list on their packaging, but still have sugar in them – it’s just labelled in a different way,” she explains.
Hidden sugars usually end in “ose”- including sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, lactose, glucose – and the nearer the start of the list they are, the larger the amount there is in the food.
A high consumption of sugary foods and beverages has been linked to obesity and other chronic diseases.
Dr Lim cited a 20-year study on 120,000 men and women that found that people who increased their sugary drink consumption by a 360ml serving (one can) per day gained more weight over time.
A significant link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain in children has also been proven in other studies.
Research has also shown that the intake of added sugar can lead to higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease, all of which are linked to an increased risk for heart disease.
Keep your sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of your calorie intake for the day, says Dr Lim.
For an average adult who requires 1,800 calories per day, this translates to no more than 45 g (nine teaspoons) of sugar.
In 2014, the World Health Organisation even recommended that people should limit their consumption of added sugar to 5 per cent of their caloric intake, which is about 90 calories for the average adult, or the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar a day.
“It is so easy to over-consume sugar from sweet beverages and desserts, especially during the festivities, without realising the detrimental effect on our health,” says Dr Lim, adding that that holiday weight gain may also stay with you long-term.
To prevent overloading on sugar during this period, choose plain water or unsweetened beverages such green tea, oolong tea or coffee without sugar, says Dr Lim.
For dessert, choose fresh fruits instead of sweet desserts and cakes.
Here are seven other smart feasting tips to help you stay healthy this Christmas:
1. QUENCH YOUR THIRST WITH PLAIN WATER
You may be tempted to replace your plain water intake for the day with sugary drinks, just because it is convenient. This risks adding a lot of unnecessary empty calories.
If you want to consume some sugary drinks or alcohol, reach out for a glass of plain water in between.
2. SAY NO TO ABSENT-MINDED EATING
Do not linger near the buffet table and make it hard for yourself to watch your food intake. Refrain from eating mindlessly while waiting for your friends to arrive at a party or when you are bored at an event.
3. CHOOSE YOUR FOOD WISELY
Avoiding greasy foods, high-fat meats and rich creamy desserts if you can, or at least moderate your consumption of these foods.
4. INDULGE SENSIBLY
Ask yourself if you really need to have a second serving of log cake, and a fifth gingerbread cookie, plus three glasses of mulled wine, after you have stuffed yourself silly with the Christmas spread.
5. SHARE YOUR FOOD
In doing so, you hopefully eat less of the dish. Cutting your portion size allows you to try different foods but not overeat.
6. DO NOT EAT YOUR CHRISTMAS LUNCH ONLY AT 8PM
Be careful of food that has been left out for long periods of time as it can become contaminated with bacteria that can cause illness, says Dr Fan.
7. DRINK WISELY
Dr Fan advises you to drink in moderation or if you can bear to do so – opt for a non-alcoholic beverage instead.
This is because festive boozing can worsen acid reflux and can cause inflammation of the liver, pancreas and stomach lining when consumed in large amounts.
Besides, some specialty alcoholic drinks generally have a high sugar content.
8. DON’T GO TO A PARTY ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
SingHealth Polyclinics dietitians Alyssa Chan Hwee Yeng and Tay Su Mei advise against going to parties on an empty stomach.
Skipping meals to save calories does not work and you often find yourself eating more.
Opt for a high-fibre or protein-rich snack an hour or two before the big party.
In doing so, you reduce the possibility of over-indulging in your favourite, caloric-dense party food.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times.