The Hub 5 healthy-eating tips for the holidays

5 healthy-eating tips for the holidays

By: Dr. Norman Temple, professor of nutrition

The waist is a terrible thing to mind

Christmas is coming, and with it comes the challenge of maintaining balance in our diets and finding the will power to resist the urge to binge on all the delectable food and thereby control weight gain.

But there is good news. Medical research has clearly shown that excessive weight gain can be prevented. All it requires is some lifestyle changes, particularly in the area of diet and exercise—and a little self-discipline is also essential. 

I have summarized five key factors that lead to weight gain, and offer some advice as to how this can be prevented.

1. Choose food with lower energy density

One major factor in weight gain is food with a high energy density. This refers to foods that have many calories per ounce, such as that tray of holiday cookies. 

The foods least likely to cause people to eat an excess of calories are those with a low energy density, especially those with a high water content, such as fresh fruits, veggies, and soup. 

Close-up of whole-wheat bread
High-fibre foods, such as whole wheat bread, can help us to feel full without overeating.

2. Choose fibre-rich food

Dietary fibre is another important factor. When people eat fibre-rich food, it takes fewer calories to bring about satiation, or a feeling of fullness. 

Compare a slice of whole wheat bread, a slice of white bread, and six ounces of a cola drink (about half a can). They each have 170 calories. Compared with the whole wheat bread, the white bread has only half as much fibre, while cola is devoid of fibre. As a result, white bread can be eaten more quickly than whole wheat bread and produces less satiation. The cola can be consumed even more quickly, and produces very little satiation. 

This helps explain why sugar is a major problem. Sugar-rich drinks like cola, energy drinks, and fruit drinks (but not juices) are of particular concern. Many studies have shown that people who drink more of these beverages tend to have more weight gain and are at greater risk of obesity.

3. Choose smaller portions

Portion sizes are a big factor in excessive weight gain. Portion sizes have been growing steadily larger since the 1970s. For example, plates in restaurants today are often appreciably larger than they were a few decades ago. Likewise, bottles of cola drinks are now three or four times larger than they were in the 1970s. 

The word “supersize” is used by some fast-food restaurants to denote larger portion sizes and better value for money (more food per dollar), but typically result in people eating more food. Buffets are another feature of our food environment that makes it all too easy to consume an excessive amount of food. 

4. Don’t worry so much about fat content

For many years it was widely believed that foods with a high fat content were especially potent at inducing an excess calorie intake and causing weight gain. This makes perfect sense, as fat has double the calories of either protein or carbohydrate, and so it has a higher energy density. 

In theory, foods rich in fat should induce excessive calorie intake and cause weigh gain, but what should happen in theory does not always happen in practice. 

Research evidence tells us that fat-rich foods like nuts, full-fat milk, and fatty cuts of meat are simply not associated with an increased risk of weight gain. 

A collection of foods rich in healthy fats, including salmon, avocado, and nuts.
You don't need to avoid healthy foods high in fat, such as salmon, avocado, nuts, and whole milk.

5. Burn those calories

Finally, I want to stress the importance of exercise in weight control. 

A common guideline is that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes per week of exercise, such as brisk walking. Ideally, the goal should be even more—around 60 to 90 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. 

In summary, the root causes of weight problems can be summarized as a hyperactive fork and hypoactive feet.

Dr. Norman Temple is a professor of nutrition at Athabasca University. His academic interests are in diet in relation to the diseases of lifestyle, such as heart disease. He has written nearly 100 papers about his research and has written or co-edited 15 books.

The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athabasca University.

  • December 19, 2022
Guest Blog from:
Dr. Norman Temple, professor of nutrition