Eating well in the festive season

– the first in a new series by nutritionist Daisy Ilchovska

DAISY Ilchovska is an MSc level educated and registered nutritional therapist and founder of Optimal Health Nutrition ( She re-trained as a nutritional therapist after her own health quickly deteriorated in her mid-20s when she was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune condition. Nutrition and lifestyle changes helped Daisy to manage the illness without drugs. This inspired her to re-train to be able to help others regain health too.

Daisy has a passion for healthy cooking and do-able lifestyle changes. Her approach with clients combines coaching with nutrition, lifestyle and supplementation plans to help clients optimise their health.
She is committed to using local and organic food and simple recipes, which encourage people to start cooking or cook more . She believes this is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. Visit her website for free recipes, articles and videos on health-related topics.

In her first article for Fine Times Recorder, Daisy tackles the challenge of nutrition and diet over Christmas and New Year. Daisy looks at ways  in which “you can have your Christmas cake and eat it too,” and develop a more balanced diet and relationship with food over the festive season and beyond.

Food and eating are big features of the upcoming season. Supermarket adverts have been telling us since mid-November about all the festive treats we can taste over Christmas, and December starts with an advert calendar usually filled with chocolate.
While the emphasis over Christmas and New Year is all about indulging yourself and tucking into decadent puddings, roasts and chocolates, January is tainted by the “new year, new you’ dieting messages about re-inventing yourself through (over)-exercise and deprivation. But how about simply enjoying food, without branding it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or following over-indulgence by starvation once the New Year’s clock strikes midnight?

Here are some of Daisy’s tips:

Balanced Meals – Aim for all of your main meals to be balanced, meaning that they all include a source of protein (turkey, sausages, eggs, ham, tofu, etc), healthy fats (eggs, avocados, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, etc), plenty of non-starchy vegetables (such as brussels sprouts, asparagus or cabbage) and some starchier carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, rice, bread or potatoes. The ideal ratio in a plate is a quarter to be filled with protein, quarter with starchier carbohydrates and grains, and at least half leafy greens and other vegetables such as cauliflower, onions and broccoli.

These more balanced meals will keep you fuller for longe, (because of the protein, fibre from all the vegetables and the good fats. You can have a bit of everything from the festive menu – and you won’t bet feeling deprived!

On Christmas day, it is also really important to start with a balanced breakfast, which will help stabilise blood sugar levels, so you will not be starving by lunchtime. Good options are egg dishes such as:
Anytime Frittata
Green Duck Eggs
porridges such as this
Buckwheat and Apple Porridge

Keeping Hydrated – It is really important to keep hydrated throughout the day (by drinking at least six glasses of filtered water) and especially crucial when consuming alcohol, which can be quite dehydrating. Regular tea and coffee can also be quite dehydrating too. Alternative hot beverages such as herbal teas (mint, camomile, ginger, etc) as well as the more seasonal non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks such as spiced cinnamon tea, count towards your liquid consumption.

Sometimes your body can confuse thirst for hunger and dehydration may lead you to believe that you need to eat something when you really need liquids. Please note, it is best to avoid drinking large quantities of liquid with meals as this may dilute your digestive enzymes, which help you break down and digest your meal.

Healthy Snacks – Snacking is a big feature of the festive season too, but there are ways of keeping these more balanced.

Here are some suggestions:
Enjoy some fruit with a handful of nuts
Have crudités with a delicious hummus (such as my Beetroot Hummus or Butter Bean Hummus
Instead of the usual cheese crackers, why not try oatcakes with some goat’s cheese and celery

The more balanced meals (consuming carbohydrates such as fruit with some fat or protein) will keep your blood sugar levels more stable, which in turn have an effect on hunger levels, mood and even the way you feel (blood sugar spikes may cause dizziness, anxiety and irritability).

This is the reason why it is best to enjoy desserts such as chocolates, cakes, Christmas pudding or trifle as a dessert – after the main meal, when they are less likely to cause a blood sugar spike (which may happen if you consume refined carbohydrates on their own).

Mindful Eating – Have you ever started with the intention of eating just one square of chocolate and before you know it,  the whole chocolate bar is gone? This often happens when we are not paying attention to the process of eating, the actual food we are consuming, or our minds are simply pre-occupied with other things.

Mindfulness, which is the practice of simply making space to observe what is happening in the moment, has expanded into eating too. When practising mindful eating your focus should be on the experience of eating the food, the atmosphere (such as sharing Christmas lunch with loved ones), appreciating features such as smell, colour and of course taste. Appreciating the warmth of the soup, the succulence of the turkey or the crunchiness of the vegetables can help you connect with the food and bring on feelings of appreciation and nourishment.

When you take time to first enjoy looking and smelling a meal you may automatically start salivating, which also primes your digestion and gets the digestives enzymes going, which is very important for the overall digestive process.

I wish you a happy, healthy and delicious Christmas and New Year!

Pictured: Daisy Ilchovska; Christmas lunch.