Festivity and food - How do we maintain the balance?


Vary your choices and enjoy a bit of everything in moderation

No wonder why this time of the year is called the “Festive Season”. Every party and get-together revolves around food and drinks and it is difficult to resist overindulging on all the delicious treats and mouth-watering food. There is nothing wrong in allowing yourself to have a little treat and enjoy the celebrations. All that counts is that you vary your choices and enjoy a bit of everything in moderation. Making the right choices will allow you to still enjoy all the festivities and ensure that you do not dread the scale in the New Year. For those of you who have made exceptional efforts to lose weight and become healthier over the past months, the temptation to overindulge can be stressful! Here are some tips to help you enjoy the party season while you also manage the temptations that come with it.

Take control over you portions.
• All the snacks and dishes laid out on the table may be extremely enticing and the feeling to try everything may be too hard to resist. To avoid over-eating, take a small amount of what you really want so that you are satisfied but make sure you vary the choices you make.

• Choose a smaller plate and fill it up with plenty of vegetables or fruit-based dishes. Choose a few of your favourites in sensible amounts, rather than a pile of everything offered. Sit down far away from the buffet table and resist the temptation to go back for seconds.

• Eat slowly and concentrate on enjoying the food. By eating slowly, we allow the stomach to signal the brain when we have eaten enough. These signals tell us that we should stop eating. If you eat too fast, you would have eaten too much before your body is able to signal you to stop eating. Stop eating when you feel full.

• Chat and mingle around at a party. It you are bored, you are more likely to nibble onto snacks.

Do not starve yourself prior to the party; instead have your regular meals
• Never starve yourself all day in order to indulge in a special dinner as you'll be more likely to over-eat. Skipping meals may make you over-hungry and may lead to low-blood sugar which may in turn make you crave for high fat and sugary food. Ensure you have your breakfast as usual.

If you are the one planning the party, choose healthier cooking methods and offer your guests healthier food and drink choices

• It may be a hassle if you’re the one planning the dinner party. Think about who your guests are and whether the foods you are planning to have meet their nutritional requirements (e.g. people with diabetes). Your efforts may go a long way and they may later thank you for it. Treat your guests to tasty and nutritious dishes cooked with healthier cooking methods. Grill, roast, poach, steam, boil, stew, stir-fry and bake are much healthier cooking techniques that helps to limit fat intake. Use non-stick pans, this will help reduce the amount of oil and fat used.

• Offer a variety of dishes including green salads with fat-free vinaigrette or vinaigrette that is served separately. Offer fish on the menu and choose lean meat cuts if you are also offering meat. These have the lowest fat content with the highest being lamb and beef. Remove skin of poultry before cooking. Limit foods and snacks cooked in batter.

• For snacks, do away with crisps, sweets and chocolates for a change. Get creative with fruits, serve them on skewers, make fruit salads topped with yoghurt, fruit jellies, fresh fruit drinks and smoothies. These are also excellent treats for children, and this is a good way to teach children that the festive season does not only mean more lemonade and ice cream.

So much for the food ... But what about alcohol?

• Alcohol interferes with your body's ability to burn fat and stimulates appetite. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories. Over-indulgence may lead to dehydration and be careful not to binge drink! To stay hydrated and to prevent yourself from getting drunk have a non-alcoholic drink, such as water or fruit juice in between alcoholic drinks. Take time to finish one drink. Use smaller glasses if you have to.

• Cut back on the amount of spirit and fill up the glass with low-calorie mixers such as diet coke, soda, water and ice. Have at least 3 alcohol-free days each week. Do not drink on an empty stomach.

Prepare your food safely and avoid food borne illness this festive season
Food borne illness or food poisoning as it is often called is caused by eating food contaminated with certain bacteria, viruses or parasites. These bacteria are sometimes found in or on foods commonly served at many parties e.g. cheese, fruit and vegetable platters, seafood, eggs and meat dishes.  It is a good idea to take extra care when preparing, cooking, serving and storing food during the festive season.

Follow these four basic steps to help reduce the risk of food borne illness:
Clean: Wash hands, contact surfaces and utensils often to avoid the spread of bacteria. Always wash fresh fruits and vegetables with clean, running water that is safe to drink.

Separate: Keep raw foods separate from cooked and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination. Ideally, use two cutting boards, one for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and one for vegetables and ready-to-eat foods.

Cook: when cooking big pieces of meat or large volumes of food make sure they are cooked properly. Red meat is done when it’s brown or gray inside while for poultry the juices should run clear with no traces of pink.

Chill: Keep cold foods cold. Eat cold foods while they are still cold.  Use refrigerated leftovers as soon as possible, ideally within two or three days. These must be reheated thoroughly as if the food is being re-cooked, before being served.

Risky foods such as cold salads with cream, chilled foods made with eggs and other milk products should not be kept as leftovers and should be discarded.
Have a merry but healthy festive season!

Contributed by the Nutrition Unit
Ministry of Health

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