It’s that time of year again. The festive season is a time for joy and celebration, but also a time when you’re more likely to be underconsiderable physical and mental pressure. All too often, the holidays are more frantic and stressful than festive and fun. Especially if you’re a woman facing a dizzying array of demands – parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining. Just to name just a few.
Everywhere you look there are the temptations of food and drink. All those sweets and alcohol wreak havoc on waistlines and blood sugar levels, leading to fatigue and moodiness – not radianceand glow.
The holidays also coincide with the peak cold and flu season, when your immune system is working overtime to defend you from the nasty bugs that are going around. Many of us suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as the days turn shorter and there is less sunlight. No wonder the holiday season often brings unwelcome guests – stress and depression.
Stress Survival Strategies
Most of us live with constant stress – and not just during the holidays. We’re overworked, under-nourished, exposed to environmental toxins and often under considerable emotional pressure. It’s essential to deal with it effectively before it has a negative effect on our health, not our enjoyment of life – as stress is at the heart of most diseases that face us today.
Here are a few simple nutritiontips to help your body cope better with the challenges of the season, protect your immunity and help you get the make your Christmas as stress-free as possible.
Get off to a good start
Drink warm lemon water first thing in the morning. It hydrates your body and starts you off on the right foot. Make time for a balanced breakfast packed with slow release energy and immune-boosting antioxidants. Good choices are granola with soy yogurt and fruit, porridge with nuts and seeds or a big green smoothie with a whole grain cracker and almond butter.
Boost those B vitamins
B complex vitamins are vital for energy production as well as for the detoxification of alcohol. They’re needed for proper nerve function and to alieve depression and anxiety. A heavy night out depletes them. Good sources are nuts, seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
Eat more tryptophan-containing foods
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. We need it to make serotonin – the feel-good hormone – which is vital to protect against depression and keep our appetite under control. Fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, eggs and brown rice are all good sources.
Make sure you get enough Vitamin D
A lack of this important vitamin is implicated in the seasonal increase in colds and flu, as well as in depression. Since 90% of our vitamin D intake is produced when sunlight touches our skin, the winter months are when deficiencies of this vital nutrient typically develop – as shorter days and colder temperatures usually mean less time spent outside. Take advantage of the Riviera sun when possible and take a vitamin D supplement throughout the winter months.
As a nutritionist, drinking alcohol is not something I recommend. There’s no doubt that alcohol is toxic to the human body – made worse because for it to be cleared from the body it must be metabolised to acetaldehyde, an even more toxic substance. Having said that, I do believe alcohol can be pleasurable and aids relaxation if you drink in moderate amounts. Be sure to compensate by drinking lots of water before, during and after. More on this subject in next week’s post!
Up the Vitamin C
Eating foods rich in vitamin C can reduce both physical and psychological effects of stress by curbing cortisol levels – the hormone responsible for the fight or flight response. All fruit and vegetables, but especially citrus, kiwis and peppers are good sources. Cooking and exposure to light destroy this delicate antioxidant – so raw or lightly steamed is best.
Know your sweets
Most of us are aware of the negative effects of excess sugar. It’s empty calories that can lead to hormonal imbalances and weight gain. And hopefully, you also know that artificial sweeteners are just as bad. They’re filled with potentially harmful chemicals, have no nutrients and trigger more sugar cravings. But what about all the natural sweeteners that are marketed as “healthier” alternatives to sugar, such as honey, maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, stevia, etc? These natural options are still SUGAR (except for stevia). What differentiates them is primarily their glycemic index (GI) and the effect they have on your blood sugar, as well as the added nutrients that can partly offset the negatives of the sugar. I recommend raw honey, (not commercial, which has very high GI levels), maple syrup (lower in calories than honey) and coconut palm sugar (low GI).
Next time the festive season has you feeling stressed, irritated or low (or all the above) give a thought to what you have – or haven’t, been putting in your mouth. And remember – the choice is yours.
Happy Healthy Holidays!
For much more on how to manage stress through nutrition and lifestyle, including complete meal plans, check out Susan’s Foodwise.life at https://www.foodwise.life/program/energy-mood