The Philippines is famous worldwide for its own brand of the Christmas season. Maybe it’s because of the countless stunning light displays, the packed shopping malls, the infuriating spikes in traffic, or the incredibly long Christmas season; regardless, the Filipino people know how to celebrate Christmas.

Indeed, for many, the Christmas season in the Philippines is really almost a third of the entire year. Radio stations, by the first of September, as if by clockwork, start rotating Christmas songs in their hourly playlists.

The Christmas season really goes into overdrive by the 16th of December, when droves of faithful Filipinos, woken up by the tolling of the church bells, flock to their local parishes to hear the misa de gallo and eat bibingka and puto bumbong after.

Without a doubt, however, at the core of all Christmas festivity is food.  ‘Tis, after all, the season of Christmas parties, and what would a Filipino Christmas party be without the copious, overflowing amounts of food.

The consequence of this, however, is that Christmas is also traditionally the season when healthy diets and trying to eat within the boundaries of the acceptable blood cholesterol levels, are regrettably set aside.

To help everyone stay healthy over the holidays MIMS caught up with nutritionists and asked them for their advice on maintaining a healthy diet this Christmas season.

Moderation, variety, and balance

“Before anything else, we have to dispel misconceptions, specifically with the term ‘diet,’” Camille Chen writes to MIMS in an e-mail. “Usually, it’s related to trying to lose weight but, in reality, it only just refers to the food we eat and beverages we drink. Basically, what we consume on a daily basis is called our diet.”

Camille Chen works as a Nutrition Officer II for the Department of Health’s National Nutrition Council (NNC), the highest coordinating and policy-making body on nutrition of the country.

To promote appropriate, accessible, and accurate nutrition information nationwide and in different forms of media, Camille, with her team mates, formulate outlines and training modules that will be deployed to various communities for implementation.

This can get particularly tricky, she writes in her email, as most communities, especially the far-flung ones, do not have access to some essential resources. So, part of her job is trying to find the most sustainable and plausible compromises for these people without having to sacrifice their health.

This is also very applicable to making recommendations about trying to eat healthy during the holiday season; people will have to find the balance of trying to maintain a healthy diet and eating healthy foods while still being able to participate in and enjoy the festivities.

“In eating, in general, there are three principles that people should follow and observe to ensure that someone is eating and maintaining a healthy diet,” Camille offers. “These principles are: balance, variety, and moderation.”

Moderation, according to Camille, should be fairly simple to get. Foods during the Christmas season are traditionally those that are high in fat, salt, and sugar – all essential ingredients for an unhealthy meal.

“What people could do,” she continues, “to not miss out on the festivities, is to pull back on the portions. This, of course, means they have to eat less than the usual serving.”

Ydett Señoron agrees: “If you really can’t avoid [eating out,] portion control will be the key. Instead of having two pieces, you could try and cut your consumption in half. Also, instead of binging on it, just have a good taste of the lechon skin or the crispy pata.

Ydett is a Health Management Specialist for Motolite. Together with doctors, nurses, and other nutritionists, Ydett works to improve the overall health of the company’s employees. Much of this revolves around trying to promote a healthy, holistic lifestyle by adopting healthy diets and exercise regimens.

As a dietician, Ydett tells MIMS, her job entails her to work, directly with the patient, on building strategies to improve their lifestyles. This can include nutrition planning, creating diet plans, and holding lectures with employees.

Variety, Camille continues, pertains to eating different kinds of food to ensure that you receive the complete array of critical nutrients. Balance is where moderation and variety overlap: it is important to consume, in moderation, the foods from various food groups.

“There is not one ‘superfood’ that contains all the necessary nutrients our body needs for it to perform its functions. We need to get it from different items. That means that we can’t just consume an all-meat diet, which is usually case during the Christmas season,” she explains.

Upgrading the Menu

One sure-fire way of keeping a healthy diet over the holiday, both Camille and Ydett agree, is modifying your Christmas menu to include healthier ingredient alternatives; that is, swapping traditional ingredients, which may be too fatty and salt-rich, for healthier ingredients.

“Upgrade your Noche Buena menu from having too many high-caloric meals – which we usually get from too much fried, store-bought, and processed foods – to meals that are less likely to use oil,” Ydett writes in an e-mail to MIMS.

As it happens, this is a very common and easy technique to cut back on calories, Camille argues, especially since meals are usually home-made anyway. “We have the opportunity to control the ingredients and people should use this opportunity to make their dishes both healthy and yummy.”

To help people out, both Camille and Ydett offered examples of this.

“Instead of using thousand-island dressing for salads, they can use balsamic vinegar instead. They can also opt for fresh fruit tarts or pies instead of that double-chocolate cake; fresh fruit juices instead of soft drinks or even wines instead of beers,” Ydett offers.

“Opt for lean meat versus the fatty portions: use chicken breast instead of chicken wings and try to do away with pork bellies. For the fats, instead of using butter and margarine, which are high in saturated fat, use vegetable oils – like canola or olive oil – instead,” Camille advises.

She continues: “The method of preparation also matters. Instead of frying or deep frying, maybe they can consider boiling, grilling, or steaming the food.”

Grilling is an healthy alternative to frying

Grilling is an healthy alternative to frying

Planning, Camille concludes, is crucial for this. If people can set time aside to plan their meals out, figure out which ingredients can be swapped out for others, not only can they cut-down on the unnecessary excess and wasted food, but they are also guaranteed healthier and more holistic holiday meals. MIMS

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