SCIENCE MATTERS: Moderation needs help at Christmas

NANAIMO – Prepare for 2013 with a moderate diet this Christmas interspersed with real treats, not the other way round.

Whatever we call it, a celebration to cheer us up in the midst of the darkest months is an opportunity to be cherished.

Every culture welcomes such a festival, although the 21st century treadmill of 24/7 workdays, sedentary occupations and replacement of human physical activity with technological inventions is not well adapted to periodic over-indulgence.

For one thing, people are short of free time to plan, prepare and enjoy simple pleasures. Worse, treats that used to be exotic and seasonal are now available all the time, although rarely authentic in quality.

More and more we rely on others to provide facsimiles of dimly-remembered goods and services, homogenizing our multicultural ways of celebrating so that the young can be forgiven for just making wild guesses at how and why we “do” Christmas and its treasured rituals.

I love a celebration with good food and congenial company, and I’m with Shakespeare’s Sir Toby Belch when he mocks a sanctimonious critic, “because thou art virtuous, shall there be no cakes and ale?” I also think it’s a bit preachy to give holiday eating tips but here goes.

Moderation works, but could use some help. Use small plates with a very little of many things, heavy on the fruits and veggies.

Only put out some of the available food so people don’t over-serve themselves (more can always come out as needed). Substitute grilled shrimp for deep fried, fresh vegetables with low-fat dips for nachos, salsas for creamy dips, lettuce wraps for egg rolls, sushi for sausage rolls.

Freeze baked goods and only bring out what is needed. Give away excess food.

Most of us travel by car now, so we can’t afford to head for home impaired by liquor.

Be the designated driver. Know that wine alcohol content can vary from an eight-per cent table wine to 40-per cent fortified ports, sherries or vermouths. Beers range from three to 10 per cent and single-malt Scotch hits you with 60-70 per cent.

Jugs of real fruit juices spritzed with club soda make delicious coolers and a Virgin Mary made with tomato juice, lemon, ice and Worcestershire sauce is equally delicious. Try making a warm, spiced wine instead of egg nog.

Severely limit fried food, salami and sausages and most pastries and baked goods. Use low-fat egg nog.

If you eat slowly you’ll eat less and mix more digestion-aiding saliva into your food.

Make time to get outside and walk in some of our great parks. You’ll come home less inclined to gorge.

And don’t beat yourself up for eating a range of delicious festive goodies once a year. Two weeks of overeating won’t do as much harm as 52 weeks of over-processed foods.

So this Christmas prepare for 2013 with a moderate diet interspersed with real treats, not the other way round.


Marjorie Stewart is chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at