Enjoy festive food without guilt

PHOTO: Health Promotion Board

Take every opportunity to be with precious friends and family during this festive season and indulge yourself: A big Christmas feast will not hurt the average, healthy person, so do not feel the need to deprive yourself entirely.

However, do control your portion sizes, eat in moderation and go for the healthier choices in order to stave off any festive weight gain.

If you have children, this is a time when you can set a good example for healthy eating.

Parents play a critical role in inculcating good eating habits. Helping your child make better food choices now will have a big impact on their health and quality of life in the future.

Here are some healthy eating tips for the festive season:


Do not starve yourself in anticipation of a bigger meal or buffet as you will tend to eat more than you intended, advises a spokesman for the Health Promotion Board (HPB). You will also find it harder to make healthier food choices if you are very hungry.

How to pick healthier options this Christmas

  • This festive season, knowing which foods to choose is half the battle won.
  • Roast chicken is the healthier choice as Christmas ham is cured with a lot of salt, which means each serving of ham is loaded with sodium and preservatives. This is important especially if you're watching your sodium consumption.
  • Furthermore, frequently consuming ham in large quantities may increase the risk of high blood pressure as well as several cardiovascular diseases.
  • Both are a good source of protein and iron, but choosing turkey will save you calories and fat over roast beef. Bonus points if you skip the skin.
  • However, roast beef contains more iron per serving, so if you're going for the roast beef, try a smaller serving.
  • Roast potatoes would be lower in calories versus mashed potatoes. Ingredients such as butter, cream and milk are normally added to mashed potatoes in order to get the creamy texture.
  • Roast potatoes would be a better substitute as they also pack more vitamins and fibre as their skins are intact.
  • In addition to lowering your risk of macular degeneration, the health benefits of brussels sprouts include reducing your chances of getting cancer as they contain sulforaphane, a phytochemical for its potential anti-cancer properties.
  • It also offer higher levels of vitamins, essential minerals and dietary fibre as compared to green beans.
  • Although higher in calories, fruit cake is actually one of the healthier cakes due to ingredients such as sultanas and currants, which supply slow-releasing energy and important minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium. Most of its sugar content is derived from the fruits, rather than the added sucrose.
  • This is unlike log cakes, which most commonly combine sponge cake and chocolate buttercream. Variations may include chocolate cake, ganache, and icings flavored with liqueurs or espresso and topped off with powdered sugar to resemble snow.
  • Both wine and champagne do not contain any fat, but they do contain calories. A glass of bubbly champagne is always welcome as it contains less calories than both red and white wine per glass.
  • However, red wine is the healthier choice as it contains more resveratrol, which helps to increase good cholesterol levels in your body and decrease your risk of blood clots, all while providing a dose of heart-healthy flavonoids.
  • Hot chocolate has an edge over eggnog in the calcium department, boasting 20 per cent of the daily recommended calcium intake per cup. It definitely trumps the measly 11 per cent offered by eggnog. Furthermore, if you use pure cocoa powder, you'll load up on antioxidants with every sip.
  • Eggnog is quite rich and its nutritional value reflects more than 300 calories per cup as compared to 175 calories per cup of hot chocolate (210 calories if you decide to add whipped cream).


Instead of going for large amounts of food, take the time to savour every bite. This is a much more sustainable way of surviving the festive feasting than going on a binge, famine or diet cycle, said Mr Derrick Ong, director of nutrition consultancy Eat Right.

Mr Lim Kiat, a senior nutritionist with the Singapore Heart Foundation, suggested that you pay attention to the appearance, taste, aroma, texture and even the sound of munching of food. This gives your body enough time to send the message to your brain that you are satiated and prevent you from overeating, he said.


You do not have to eat everything at a party. Just choose three to five of the most appealing items, said the HPB spokesman. And go for smaller portions as many festive food items are likely to be laden with calories.

Studies suggest that using a smaller dining plate can reduce your food intake by up to 22 per cent, said Mr Lim.


Vegetables and wholegrains are good for your health and will add bulk to your diet. This can give the feeling of fullness for a longer period of time and prevent overeating, said the HPB spokesman.


Wherever possible, choose water over sweet drinks, which are a source of empty calories, said the spokesman.

Alcoholic drinks, which are often served during this period, are also a concentrated source of calories.

Christmas gifts for health nuts

  • If you have a Christmas party coming up, why not take along organic sparkling wine? These are better than the conventional varieties because they do not contain artificial colouring and preservatives, and are not loaded with added sugar.
  • Alternatively, you could get them some plant-based munchies such as roasted chickpeas, popped edamame, kale chips or quinoa chips. She said they are great appetisers for a potluck, or as a standby for when you get hungry at work.
  • You can get artisan blends, loose leaf tea or tea packaged in woven tea bags. Organic teas are free of pesticides, while the fair-trade label indicates that tea is grown in a sustainable way and farmers are not exploited.
  • For aspiring chefs, buy a steamer ($50 to $150) or an air fryer ($100 to $300), which help you cook food more healthily.
  • For someone who works from home, an ergonomic chair ($200 upwards) might be an ideal gift.
  • The simplest thing you can get someone who wants to get started on fitness is an exercise mat ($10 to $30) or a simple skipping rope ($15 to $20)
  • Baby clothes or blankets made of organic cotton ($15 to $40) are also not a bad idea as a gift as they are unlikely to contain chemical contaminants that are harmful.
  • For people who seem to need nothing more, give them the gift of your time. "t can be a simple gesture like taking your loved one out for a meal - and it doesn't have to be fancy - where you can talk and connect.
  • Spending time in nature is also a good idea. Venturing into the natural world and embracing new experiences is a tonic for stress and can do wonders for a person's immune system and cognitive functioning.

Healthy Recipes For The Holiday Season


Prep time: 10min

Cook time: 30min


1 large bunch baby spinach (100g) (can replace with ¾ to 1 cup of other vegetables such as broccoli or frozen vegetables)

8 eggs

150g cherry tomatoes, halved or normal tomatoes, diced

1 cup (90g) grated parmesan cheese

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ onion, chopped

1 tbsp canola oil

2 slices wholemeal bread, chopped into pieces

1 cup (250ml) low-fat milk

Pepper, to taste


• Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.

• Roughly chop spinach leaves.

• Whisk eggs and pepper in a bowl until small bubbles appear.

• Add spinach, tomatoes, cheese, garlic, onion, milk and pepper to eggs. Stir well.

• Spoon mixture into prepared muffin holes. Press bread pieces into the mixture with the back of a spoon.

• Bake for 30 minutes or until firm to the touch.

• Cool in pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Serve.



Energy: 339kcal

Protein: 22.1g

Total fat: 20.9g

Carbohydrate: 15.9g

Dietary fibre: 2.7g

•Source: HPB


Prep time: 10min

Cook time: 45min


12/3 cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

½ cup sugar

½ cup dark brown sugar; Juice and zest of 1 orange

¼ cup of canola oil

2 carrots, grated

50g flaked almonds


• Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.

• Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

• Whisk the flour mixture.

• In large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs until blended.

• Add the sugars and beat for two minutes. On low speed, beat in the orange juice and oil.

• Add flour mixture. Stir in the carrots and orange zest.

• Pour batter into pan. Top with almonds.

• Bake for 20 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 160 deg C and bake for another 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

• Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely.



Energy: 201kcal

Protein: 3.7g

Total fat: 7.5g

Carbohydrate: 30.6g

Dietary fibre: 1.5g

•Source: HPB

This article was first published on Dec 20, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.