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How to enjoy Christmas and look after your heart

With the festive season right around the corner, is it possible to eat, drink and be merry without putting your health on the line? Despite our best intentions, we don't always make the healthiest choices at this time of year. We've put together our top tips to keep you healthy during the festive season without compromising the celebrations.

christmas tree made of kiwi fruit

1. Be aware of portion distortion

There can be a tendency for us to eat more than usual if we are going out for Christmas social events. Eating simple, light meals on either side of a Christmas lunch/dinner is a great way to avoid overeating by not allowing ourselves to become too hungry. It is much harder to moderate our portion sizes when feeling ravenous.

Some light meal options are:

  • a mixed salad with grilled chicken or tuna
  • an egg on toast with spinach and avocado
  • oats, fruit and natural yoghurt
  • fruit salad with nuts and natural yoghurt.

If you don't feel up for a meal, try some healthy snack options like:

  • fresh fruit
  • chopped vegetables with hummus
  • a handful of nuts and seeds
  • natural yoghurt
  • whole grain bread with tomato.

2. Fill up on vegetables where you can

Take advantage of the abundance of seasonal fruit and veg on offer at this time of year. There can be a lot of high-sugar, low-nutrient food at Christmas, so it's essential to include plenty of nutrient-dense, high-fibre veggies at every meal and snack.

Fill half your plate with affordable, seasonal vegetables like leafy greens, courgettes, green beans, tomatoes and capsicum. The fibre will fill you up and keep your gut nice and healthy.

When it’s time for dessert, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. If you’re already feeling full, have a cup of tea instead, ask for a smaller portion or share one portion between two.

3. Set yourself up for success by preparing food in advance

Making healthy food choices can be hard when you're busy. Often what we eat and how much time and thought we put into the preparation are the first things we push to the side when there's less time.

Preparing food in advance means you don't have to make those difficult decisions about what to eat during busy days. Taking one to two hours each week to do some meal prep is an excellent place to start and means we won't feel the urge to snack on those tempting Christmas nibbles!

Tupperware containing meals ready to be frozen

4. Enjoy social occasions, but be drink aware

It's great to enjoy the increase in social events over the Christmas season, but with that comes the opportunity to drink more alcohol than we would normally. Whether you drink alcohol or not is your personal choice.

If you choose to drink alcohol, remember to keep it within the recommended guidelines. Heavy or binge drinking increases the risk of heart disease, even in people who don't usually drink much.

Alternate alcoholic drinks with water, non-alcoholic or low-alcohol alternatives to moderate how much you drink at any time. Just be mindful that many low-alcohol or soft drink alternatives are high in sugar and best avoided. If plain water feels too dull, try adding fresh fruit to sparkling water for a refreshing, flavoursome alternative.

Remember, there's no requirement to drink alcohol at social events, and it's ok to choose not to drink.

4 clear jugs of water infused with a variety of different fruit combinations

5. Christmas can be stressful so staying active is important

Keeping active all year round is vital for a healthy heart – even more so at Christmas when we tend to sit for long periods socialising with family and friends.

Christmas can also be very stressful for many people. Making time to exercise is a proven way to help reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

Plan to get outside every day. You could go to the beach or park to throw a ball around. Take a walk or a run around the block. If the weather is good, try a dip in the ocean or dust off the bikes for a ride.

Exercise supports both your physical and mental health. Even walking with a friend or on your own with music or a podcast will help keep you balanced during this busy time.

A pregnant mum, dad and two small children throw a ball to each other in the park.

6. Burning the candle at both ends? Prioritise your sleep

There's more than enough to manage during December and January with celebrations, kids finishing school, work winding up for the year and the whānau coming together. Sleep can be one thing we skimp on to fit more into the day.

Sleep helps the body rest, restore and recover. Poor sleep is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, which is reason enough to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Eating well, doing daily physical activity, moderating alcohol intake and switching off from screens/devices at least an hour before sleeping can help you get good quality sleep.

7. Enjoy the social time

Recent events have taught us the power and importance of social connection. It's been a significant few years for everyone. With all the uncertainty, everyone needs some time to rest and relax.

Give yourself time to switch off from the news, social media or extra content online to be present with those around you. Allow yourself to enjoy social time with your friends and whānau.

Most importantly, remember to find the balance that works for you when managing your time over Christmas and enjoy being with loved ones at mealtimes and in social situations.

If you find this time of year difficult and need support, talk to your GP or a counsellor. They can help you navigate any changes to your stress levels or mood that you experience.

Need to talk?

  • Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline – 0800 611 116
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.