Croí’s Top Tips for a Healthy Christmas!

While Christmas doesn’t have a reputation for being the healthiest time of the year, there are a few ways that you can make it that bit healthier and maintain some healthy habits over the festive season.

christmastreeFirstly, try not to stress if your exercise or healthy eating routine goes out the window. It’s 2 weeks out of 52 in the year and after the year we’ve had, it’s time for a bit of a celebration! However, be mindful that the celebration doesn’t stretch out to a month or more..

Be wary of how early you stock up on your favourite boxes of Christmas chocolates, biscuits and sweets. While we may have the best intentions of leaving them unopened until Christmas week, does that ever really happen? And with us all likely having a lot less visitors and guests calling to our houses over the festive period, we probably don’t need to have as many treats in stock ‘for the guests’…

Watch out for the high levels of salt and saturated fat in common finger foods such as pastries, sausage rolls, quiches, spring rolls, mini pizzas, cheeses and cured meats. If in doubt, use our handy traffic light card to read your food labels or have a look at our healthier canapé suggestions. Excess salt in our diet can lead to raised blood pressure while high intakes of saturated fat lead to raised cholesterol levels and weight gain.

Be mindful of how much alcohol you consume. Alcohol can negatively effect our physical and mental health and can impact on our relationships. With Christmas 2020 bound to be a different one for many reasons, be mindful of how much alcohol you are having and how it affects you. Why not try some of the many alcohol free beers, wines, spirits and sparkling wine that are available in most supermarkets now or try some of these tasty mocktail recipes? For more information on alcohol click here.

Try to keep some sort of routine. Whether that be sticking to a healthy breakfast rather than the leftovers from the selection box, getting out for a daily walk or scheduling in a quick home workout, make sure you have some structure to your day and take some time out to focus on you. Why not have a look at some our Croí at home workouts.

While Christmas generally isn’t the ideal time for focusing on a healthy diet, there are some ways you can ensure that you maintaining healthy habits and nourishing your body. For example, make sure you include some fruit and vegetables every day. Why not add some lovely winter berries or fruit salad to your breakfast or have a fruit based dessert. Make the most of the lovely in season vegetables on offer this time of year. Not sure what’s in season? Click here.

Be mindful of your portion sizes. Because there are so many tasty foods on offer during Christmas, it can be hard to resist sampling a bit of everything. A simple way of being able to have a bit of what you fancy but still being mindful of your waistline is to watch your portion sizes. This goes for everything from the portion size of your dinner, to the amount of chocolates you have while watching your favourite Christmas movie to the glass of wine you have in the evening. Try to be mindful of your portion sizes and your hunger levels – check out our feature on mindful eating here.

We hope you have a healthy and happy Christmas!

Diet and Immune System

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Can diet help ‘boost’ our immune system to fight COVID-19?

While it is true that poor nutrition can hamper your ability to fight off illness and infection, it is misleading to think that a special food, nutrient or supplement can “boost” your immune system. There are many products being heavily promoted as “immune boosters”, however immunology is complex and there are no supplements or natural health products approved to treat or protect against the COVID-19 virus.

Alongside a healthy sleep pattern, regular physical activity and stress management strategies, now more than ever is a good time to develop a healthy eating routine.

A Balanced Diet

Following the key points below for a healthy balanced and varied diet with adequate energy and protein intake is important to best support your immune system and overall heart health.

  • Aim for 5 – 7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day (aim to include at every meal)
  • Choose brown and wholegrain versions of carbohydrates
  • Include 2 servings of lean protein per day e.g. fish, lean red meat and poultry, peas, beans, lentils and eggs)
  • Stay hydrated with water as your main fluid source
  • Limit high sugar/fat/salt foods to a few times per week

Below, we will take you through some of the key nutrients found in a balanced diet one and highlight the role they pay in supporting your immune system to work properly.

Click the image to download the Healthy Ireland Food Pyramid.
Click the image to download the Healthy Ireland Food Pyramid.

7 key nutrients for a healthy immune system

Protein is important for many bodily functions such as healing and repair and maintaining healthy muscle mass. It also has a role in the formation of antibodies that fight infection and disease.  Protein foods can be animal based such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy or plant based such as peas, beans, lentils, tofu and nuts. Vary your protein sources, choose lean meats and poultry and limit processed red meats to keep your diet low in saturated fat. Include fish twice a week one of which is oily such as salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines (tinned or fresh).

1

This vitamin is ace at supporting your immune system! It helps maintain the structure of the cells in the skin, respiratory tract and gut. It acts as an anti-oxidant which is kind of like anti-rust protection for our bodies cells, keeping them strong and ready to fight infection. Beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body is found in leafy greens, yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.

2

Vitamin E is also a powerful anti-oxidant and is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. It is also found in avocados and vegetable oils such as sunflower and rapeseed oil and nuts and seeds including: almonds, hazelnuts and pumpkin. Why not try adding a handful of nuts or seeds to your cereal or using rapeseed oil in cooking and salad dressings.

3

Habitual vitamin C supplementation may help with the common cold by reducing severity and duration (>200mg/day) however we don’t know if this transfers to viruses. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for most adults is 80mg which is easily achieved through a balanced diet. Foods rich in vitamin C include bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and berries. Fresh and frozen are equally as nutritious. While vitamin C supplementation up to 1000mg/day won’t do you any harm, excess consumption can result in stomach pain and diarrhoea.

4

Vitamin D works with calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones, muscles and teeth. Vitamin D also helps to regulate our immune responses and a recent review of the research found that vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.

This is one vitamin where supplementation is recommended, although we can make vitamin D in the skin through direct sunlight, in Ireland the sunlight isn’t strong enough between March and October. We can get some vitamin D from diet as it is found in foods such as eggs, salmon and fortified milk but typically we don’t consume enough of these foods to meet our needs. Taking a 10 micrograms per day supplement is recommended for adults and children over the age of one year. With the social isolation precautions our time outdoors may be restricted a bit more and so supplementation is more important than ever.

5

Zinc helps the immune system to work properly and plays a role in wound healing. The immune system works well when we consume the recommended daily allowance of zinc which is 10mg / day. It is rare to be deficient in zinc as it is present in a wide range of foods including; lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, seeds and nuts.

6

Selenium is involved in the normal function of the immune system. Good sources include Brazil nuts (5-6 Brazil nuts provide an adults daily needs) fish and seafood, brown rice, baked beans, sunflower seeds and oats are also good sources.

7

Most importantly, please remember that correct and frequent hand washing is your first line of defense and to continue to physically distance yourself as much as possible to break the chain of transmission. For more information check out the HSE website.