THE HOLIDAYS shouldn’t be used as an excuse to binge-eat, warned a dietitian. 

Christmas is just around the corner and with it comes an abundance of delicious food, whether it’s at the family noche buena, a gathering with friends, or an office Christmas party.   

“To eat smart, you have to have a balanced diet and be mindful of your body’s needs. This should stay the same even during the holidays,” said Dr. Virgith B. Buena, a dietitian and nutritionist at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center, who shared healthy eating tips for this year’s festivities in a Dec. 2 webinar hosted by the University of the Philippines.   

Drink lots of water.  

Water, which makes up about 60 to 70% of the human body, serves as a solvent for all nutrients and aids in the transport of these nutrients to the different parts of the body.  

Even if one eats lots of food, water is still needed for the body to get as much nutrients from the food as possible, said Dr. Buena.  

Drinking water will also avoid dehydration.  

Learn to read a nutrition label.  

The nutrition facts printed on containers of food items can be a guide to ensuring a balanced diet. Dr. Buena suggested starting with the serving size and number of calories to know how much an item contributes to one’s daily intake.  

Next up is to try and limit eating food with high levels of fat and cholesterol, which are weighted in grams on the nutrition facts label.   

“The nutrients you have to get a lot of are vitamins like Vitamin A and C,” she said. These are found in fruits and vegetables.  

Stick to regular mealtimes.  

“Eat a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts and stick to regular mealtimes,” Dr. Buena said.  

Variety and regularity will provide the body with what it needs during the energy-intensive season.   

Skipping meals, usually breakfast, just to feast on a large meal for lunch and/or dinner is a common unhealthy habit. Since the body seeks regular nutrition, depriving it of food will encourage gorging later on.   

Instead, practice mindful eating, which is a form of “loving yourself,” she said.  

Eat vegetables and fruits first.  

When a spread includes salad, it’s always best to eat greens first.   

“When you eat this ahead of heavier portions of a meal, it reduces your food intake. You end up eating less of what comes after,” said Dr. Buena.  

This is also true for fruits served as snacks before mealtimes.   

Think small and frequent, and enjoy.  

It’s bad to think of holiday eating as long periods of fasting followed by large, sumptuous feasts. The key to staying healthy is to stick to small and frequent meals, neither dieting excessively nor eating excessively.  

Don’t obsess over avoiding carbs, Dr. Buena added.  

“There’s no such thing as zero carbohydrates. Fruits have carbs, vegetables have carbs. It’s important because it’s our main source of energy,” she said. 

She recommended that diabetics who need to control sugar levels but still crave sweet Filipino desserts should only have a taste, to satisfy the craving but not gorge on it.  

“Eat better, not less,” she said. — Brontë H. Lacsamana