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Christmas is Coming; are the chemists getting fat?

So December is here already; the month of excess that spawned the January resolution of abstinance. We are apt to shoulder the rigours of the Christmas season, with a sense of wilful inevitability, dutifully wading through multiple stacks of mince pies, crates of wine and engorging ourselves, without restraint. And this progress through the food mountain continues to build towards the great peak of Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, culminating in a glass of water and a packet of painkillers on the bedside table. Although Christmas, as we know it, was founded in Victorian Britain, the Christmas tradition of feasting has been in place for centuries, the Christian festival being superimposed on the more ancient Yuletide; a bit of cheer to break up the long, cold months. Livestock, costly to feed through the winter, were despatched and meat preserved to be eked out until nature provided once more. Candles were made from animal fat, skins were cured for clothing and fabric, fruit and berries were stored and preserved. Feasting handsomely at this time made sense both to use the fattened animals, take advanteous of the plenteous supply of berries and late autumn fruits and to lay down layers of fat to last until nature provided once more.

Of course, the year round availability of produce we know today, care of air freight, heated greenhouse production and freezing methods, has left us with no need to concern ourselves with the seasons and what they provide but rather with the expectation of being able to eat what and when we want. The Christmas feast is no longer confined to the days surrounding Christmas but is an entire month of abandoned self indulgence, to which we can devote ourselves with considerable ardour. And then, once we have danced ourselves into the new year, we may nurse our sore heads, exhausted bodies and, bemoaning the button popped off our waistband, vow never to eat or drink again - or at least until February.

However, is there another way? Do we have to be a 'party pooper' to survive December unscathed? Or can we maintain our party animal status, yet spring, lithely, into January full of energy? If we insist on drinking ourselves into a stupor on each and every one of the Twelve Days of Christmas as well as for the three weeks leading up to them, then the following is unlikely to help but, given some intention to make it through still standing, the following tips may be of use:

Shun the sugar. Whilst sugar, from the breakdown of dietary carbohydrates is the main source of fuel for the body, and especially the brain, its excessive long term consumption has been linked to many serious health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognitive impairment. However, it may also be associated with less dramatic symptoms such as fluctuating energy levels, weight gain, low mood, headaches and night waking that are common side effects of the party season. When our energy levels are low, we have a tendency to reach out for more of it, because it makes us feel better for a while but is often followed by another energy slump, or a headache. Be aware of sources of sugar, such as that in canned drinks, orange juice, white pasta or rice, and ready prepared meals or sauces, as well as the more obvious ones in cakes, biscuits and mince pies. Eating plenty of foods that take longer to break down, such as vegetables and wholegrains, may help to even blood sugar levels. And, if you are watching your waistline, then sugar is the most important dietary factor to control. And remember that alcoholic drinks contain sugar, too.

Have a fondness for Fat. Fat has historically got a bad press but it is vital for health, required for every cell in the body. It is essential for hormone production and 60% of the brain is composed of fat. Eating fat rich foods may help us to feel full for longer and there is evidence that good quality saturated fat, at moderate levels, may protect against the effects of alcohol consuption, . However, fats are not all equal. When cooking, try using good quality saturated fats, such as coconut oil or butter. Next best are those containing good levels of monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or goose fat. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil are not suitable for cooking, as they are damaged by heat, becoming 'trans' fats, which can have negative health consequences. However, these polyunsaturated fats are essential because our bodies cannot make them. Consuming cold pressed vegetable oils (sunflower, hemp, nut oils) and fatty fish (eg mackerel, salmon) may promote a sense of wellbeing and keep your skin glowing throughout the party season.

Embrace the Sprout. The humble sprout is the ubiquitious Christmas vegetable, yet it is certainly not universally loved. However, it is worth paying attention to it, as the sprout is rich in nutrients, including Vitamin C, as well as B vitamins and may help the liver to detoxify some of the seasonal indulgences. However, if you are a sprout hater, many of the same benefits may be derived from its relations, such as cabbage, broccoli and kale.

Colour your plate. One way to ensure that you are packing in enough protective nutrients is to include as many different colours as you can into your food. That does not, of course, mean that you should splatter food colouring over your meals or allow any budding little Jackson Pollocks to flick their paintbrushes your way but that you select as many different colours of vegetables as you can into each meal. Each colour reflects the different nutrients contained, so maximising the variety of colours could maximise the variety of protective nutrients you consume and help you to ward off a pyjama month come January.

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