Making Healthy Choices - December 2009 - Volume 1 Issue 9



Dear Reader,

 With the holiday season fast approaching this is a time of year that we are all busier than usual. In spite of the good times, we need to take care to stay rested, calm and well nourished, but not over-nourished with all the temptations that are everywhere! I have put together some practical tips for beating the most common ill effects of the holidays. I hope you find them helpful.

Making Healthy Choices

Keeping our minds on just a few key factors as we approach the holidays can make all the difference between enjoying the festive season versus becoming tired, frazzled and putting on a few unwanted extra pounds. I am going to outline some strategies with regard to eating, drinking water, sleeping and exercise that can make a major difference in how you cope with the usual holiday stresses.

Food and Drink

What would the holidays be without special treats to eat? I’m not suggesting you give them up! Just that you watch the details closely to save unnecessary extra calories in general, and saturated fat and sugar in particular.

Some tips:

  • don’t give up your favourite treats, but reduce the quantity you eat or drink, for example, have just one drink of eggnog
  • avoid creamy dips, and try dips like hummus which are low fat and high in fibre
  • if you enjoy chocolate, have a small quantity of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) rather than milk chocolate – the dark chocolate has less sugar and is high in healthy antioxidants. Sadly, chocolate cannot be considered a health food because of its high saturated fat content.
  • turkey, preferably white meat, is healthier than a standing rib roast or ham – much lower in fat than the beef, and lower in salt than the ham. However, lean cuts of beef, such as tenderloin, can be lower in fat as well.
  • use whole grain bread or brown and wild rice as the base for stuffing
  • roast your vegetables – roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables, from carrots to corn
  • pass on (or at least reduce) the creamy sauces and gravy
  • don’t give up dessert, but limit the desserts you serve to, say, one pie and some fresh fruit for special meals, rather than several high calorie choices
  • red wine, with its antioxidants, is a better choice than sweet punches – have one glass, then switch to sparkling or still water, perhaps with a wedge of lemon or lime
  • at the buffet, stick to vegetables and fruits, rather than the higher calorie items
  • guard against too much coffee and alcohol which are dehydrating


Be sure to drink plenty of good quality water every day to be sure to avoid dehydration. Water helps to flush toxins through the body. It helps the body function more efficiently, and helps to reduce fatigue levels. It carries nutrients to different parts of the body. Adequate water is essential to avoid constipation (see our July 2009 newsletter). It is calorie free! We need about eight 8-ounce glasses, or 2 litres of water per day.


People have different sleep needs, some getting by on less and others needing as much as 10 hours a night; however, most of us need 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night to feel rested and refreshed. Of course, when things get hectic we don’t always get all the sleep we need, but there are ways to ensure that we make the best use possible of the time we have for sleep.

Some tips:

  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day, as much as possible, even on weekends
  • exercise, but not too soon before going to bed
  • be sure your bedroom is not too warm
  • be sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is dark and quiet
  • avoid foods and beverages that may interfere with sleep, such as
    • foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates which can cause a burst of energy
    • anything with caffeine, even in the late afternoon
    • alcohol – while it may help some people fall asleep, it often causes interrupted sleep, and wakefulness during the night
    • fatty or spicy foods or beans, garlic and cucumbers that may cause heartburn, gas or indigestion
    • monosodium glutamate (MSG) often found in Chinese food, which causes a stimulant reaction in some people
    • a light snack at bedtime can help you fall asleep, and remain asleep, since you won’t be hungry.

Physical Activity

When you’re tired, it may not seem like the obvious time to exercise, but light to moderate exercise does more to restore energy levels than taking to the couch – and it will burn off a few calories before your next holiday feast! When we feel we least have the time to exercise, it’s actually the most important time to maintain exercise routines or even start fitting in a brisk walk whenever possible. As little as 10 minutes of activity is enough to make a difference. Physical activity improves both physical and mental health – important if this is a stressful time of year for you.

Warmest wishes for a happy, healthy holiday season – enjoy yourself, but be mindful of what keeps you functioning at your peak. Please feel free to contact me with your comments at


 The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.

References and Notes:

  1. Panel issues wake-up call on sleeplessness in America. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. 2006; 24(5):6.
  2. Jacobs GD. Say Good Night to Insomnia. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1999.
  3. Light exercise beats the couch for fighting fatigue and the “blahs.” Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. 2008;26(4):1-2.