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Christmas – a time of celebration!... and excess?

A focus on nourishing and appreciating our amazing bodies!

As we gear up for Christmas with more social get togethers and various celebrations, it’s easy to wander off track & forget about our health goals. Come January, we can end up with some much needed major damage control.

These simple tips will help you stay on track, without making you feel like a party pooper and that you are missing out on all the fun.

  1. When you are invited to a Christmas celebration, offer to contribute & take some dishes that are more in-line with your health goals. Then you know that you will have some healthy choices available to you and won’t feel trapped into eating food that you would not normally choose.

  2. Do the same with all those office Christmas morning teas. Make some healthy treats to take, even if it’s not your turn to provide the food for that occasion.

  3. Moderate alcohol intake, it’s high in ‘empty’ calories and can have some negative impacts on our health. How about swapping a drink or two for some fizzy kombucha and keep your gut happy at the same time? I love the New Zealand Daily Organics brand and Rene’s kombucha. When choosing kombucha it’s important to do a bit of research, not all kombucha is created equal. To get the health benefits of kombucha it should be properly fermented and un-pasteurised (pasteurisation kills off the good bacteria and yeasts). It also pays to check sugar content, some kombucha’s have a much higher sugar content than others. Making your own is always a great option too!

  4. Stay hydrated, drinks lots of water.

  5. Make some healthy treats and snacks to keep on hand for when guests pop over.

  6. Do some batch cooking and freeze meals for those nights when life is just too busy.

  7. Keep active even if your usual routine is disrupted: Enjoy after dinner walks with your family or friends, enjoy the downtime and fresh air. Take the family biking in a local forest for a morning or the day. There are lots of different grades of trails for the super fit to the not so fit, it’s great fun. Pack a healthy picnic in backpacks, lots of water & make as many stops as you want along the way.

  8. Ensure your meals are balanced with good quality protein, healthy fats and a wide variety of coloured vegetables for fibre and nutrients. When meals are balanced in this way, it helps to prevent cravings by maintaining even blood sugar levels, regulates our hunger and satiety hormones, keeps us fuller for longer and helps to avoid overeating.

  9. A focus on nutrient rich foods will help to take over the space that we might be tempted to fill with ‘empty’ calorie foods like chips, dips and baked goods.

  10. Let the celebrations be more about enjoying, building and maintaining relationships with those around you rather than just about food and overindulging.

  11. If you are attending a celebration, have something nutritious to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive and want to eat everything in sight. This was a tactic I used often when my children were young and were invited to birthday parties where I knew there weren’t going to any healthy options available.

  12. If you are caught out at an event, just do your best and try and pick the healthiest options available. One or two occasions of overindulging is not going to throw all your efforts throughout the year away. Most of all, if you find that you have overindulged, please don’t throw in the towel and give up altogether. Tomorrow is always a fresh new day to focus on keeping within your own, personal health objectives.

Some nutritious swaps:

  • A creamy dip and chips for a fresh salsa, hummus, guacamole or pesto with vegetable crudité or toasted pita bread triangles

  • Cocktail sausages for asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and grilled

  • A cheese platter for a fruit platter with unsalted nuts and 70% chocolate squares

  • Ice cream for a banana ‘nice cream’ made with frozen bananas, frozen fruit and a little coconut cream blended in a food processor

  • Chips for popcorn

  • Cocktails for a mocktail

Never forget how amazing your body is! Perhaps, making this the focus will help us to keep our healthy choices in mind, instead of having a deprivation mindset over the Christmas period. So let’s look at some of the things our bodies are actually doing. We never have to tell

  • our heart to beat (this hard-working muscle will contract about 3 billion times over the course of the average human lifespan)

  • our liver to perform its many functions (detoxification being one of them)

  • our kidneys to process waste that would be harmful to us if we could not eliminate it

  • our stomachs to digest and produce energy from our food

  • our lungs to breathe

  • and the list goes on…

These bodies of ours are hard at work …..all…..the….time, even when we are asleep and because we don’t actively have to expend any effort into getting it to perform all of the vital functions that keep us alive, we can easily take it for granted.. Thousands of biochemical reactions occur in our bodies every day. There are approximately 30 trillion cells, and about 200 different cell types, in the average human body. These cells make up our tissues, which make up our organs. Our body is constantly manufacturing cells (about 3.8 million every second) to replace those that have become damaged or die off.

Our bodies take the food that we eat (i.e. the building materials) to make our cells, hormones, neurotransmitters (like dopamine, serotonin - our ‘feel good’ hormones) and melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep) etc. In order to transform our food into these different components, we need enzymes (which are proteins) that facilitate these biochemical reactions and enzymes need cofactors to help them perform their tasks. These cofactors are mostly vitamins and minerals that our bodies cannot make, they need to come from the food that we eat. So the quality of what we eat really matters if we want to make sure that our bodies function as well as they were designed to.

Let’s remember to eat a wide variety of nutritious wholefoods that will strengthen our immune systems and provide these amazing bodies with what they need, so that it functions beautifully……..and be grateful for all that it does.

There are certain regions in the world where people have much lower rates of lifestyle related diseases and live longer, healthier lifespans than average, they are known as Blue Zones.

Sardinia (Italy – a substantial proportion reach 100), Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and Icaria (Greece – one out of every three people make it into their 90s, they have 50% lower rates of heart disease, 20% lower rates of cancer and dementia is almost unheard of). These zones were discovered by demographers working for National Geographic in 2005.

They identified some key things that people living in these zones do on a regular basis:

  • Eat lots of unprocessed plant foods – vegetables, legumes, nuts and wholegrains

  • They move regularly as part of their daily lives

  • They have a sense of belonging and purpose

  • Being part of a faith based community

  • Family is a priority

  • They moderate their stress levels

  • They have a moderate alcohol intake

The Okinawans’ have a saying - “hara hachi bu”, which means “eat until you are 80% full”. It takes about 20 minutes for the hormonal message, that we are full, to reach our brains. If we eat slowly and stop before we are 100% full, it’s helps to prevent us consuming more calories than we need and thereby maintaining a healthful weight over this wonderful festive season. Have a very merry Christmas and best wishes for an awesome New Year!

You can find me on Facebook as NutritionSense for weekly posts on health related topics, recipes and encouragement or over at my website

Paula Southworth

Nutritionist at NutritionSense

(BSc Human Nutrition and Sports Science, Massey University)

Member of the Nutrition Society of New Zealand






Ingredients :

2 medium (300g) kumara/sweet potatoes – baked and peeled

1 tablespoon coconut flour

1 tablespoon cold pressed virgin coconut oil - melted

80g chocolate (70% cocoa) - melted

¼ cup raw cacao powder

¼ cup organic raw honey (melted) or pure maple syrup

3 whole, organic, free range eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 160oC (325oF).

  2. Line a 20 cm x 20 cm baking tin with baking paper.

  3. Blend the cooled kumara/sweet potatoes in a food processor until smooth.

  4. Add remaining ingredients and process until well combined.

  5. Pour mixture into lined baking tin and bake for 30 - 40 minutes.

  6. Allow to cool, then place it in the fridge overnight.

  7. Use a small round cookie cutter to cut the brownie into rounds.

  8. Top with whipped coconut cream and a strawberry as per the photos.

Coconut Whipped Cream

1 – 2 x 270 ml cans AYAM or AROY-D coconut cream

1 – 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

  1. Chill coconut cream the fridge overnight.

  2. Remove the coconut cream from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (reserve for use in smoothies).

  3. Place hardened cream in a mixing bowl. Beat for 2 – 3 minutes with a mixer until creamy. Then add vanilla and maple syrup and mix until creamy and smooth - about 1 minute.

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