How to survive the party season
Nutritionist Nell Nelson shows how to survive the excesses of the festive season, including health-giving foods for the day after and a damage limitation party strategy.
Look after your liver and your liver will look after you. It’s hard to say no when that last mince pie seems to have your name on it. And you’ve only had one small glass of mulled wine, so that shouldn’t make a difference, should it? Sadly, it all adds up. But if you try to balance the ‘naughty’ high-fat, processed foods and alcohol with more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, your body will thank you. You also might start January at your optimum weight, with clear skin, feeling really good about yourself.
It’s your liver that takes the brunt of Christmas and New Year indulgence because one of its jobs is to help clear the blood of alcohol, bacteria, allergens and chemicals that can be harmful to the body. Another is to balance glucose, fat, vitamin and mineral levels. It’s a hard worker, but still needs your support.
Your liver is thought to detoxify in two stages: in phase one, it converts toxic chemicals to less harmful ones. To help combat these toxins in the first place, eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains (which are rich in important vitamins and minerals) and add an extra dollop of cranberry sauce with your turkey.
In phase two, the liver makes the chemicals water-soluble, so they can be excreted from the body. To help this process, some nutritionists recommend eating foods rich in sulphur, such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli – a noble reason to have an extra helping of sprouts on Christmas Day.
Day after foods
The day after a boozy evening, try to eat some of the following:
- Brightly coloured vegetables, such as beetroot and carrots. They contain antioxidants that some nutritionists believe have a cleansing effect on the liver; beetroot also contains folic acid, which is thought to help the liver to detoxify.
- Broccoli and cabbage contain natural sulphur compounds, while broccoli contains vitamins B and C and is a good source of folic acid.
- Brown rice provides B vitamins and the antioxidant selenium.
- Spinach provides folic acid and other B vitamins.
- Tomatoes contain vitamins C and E and they’re also a good source of the antioxidant lycopene – even more so when you cook them.
- Brazil nuts contain the antioxidant selenium.
- Garlic contains powerful antioxidants.
- Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Eat a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein – such as a cheese sandwich – before going out.
- Leave a large glass of water by the bed for when you get home, to prevent dehydrating headaches the next day.
- Milk thistle is thought by some nutritionists to help the liver break down alcohol. They advise taking up to 200mg three times a day in the party season.
- Next morning, don’t indulge in the typical hangover breakfast of fried eggs and bacon – all that fat will just make more work for your liver. Go for vitamin C-packed fresh orange juice and berries, and porridge oats or muesli, which are a good source of B vitamins.
- Go easy on coffee, tea and fizzy drinks the next day, as they all contain caffeine; caffeine has to be broken down by the liver, which won’t appreciate the extra workload. Instead, opt for herbal tea – especially South African rooibos (redbush) – which is rich in antioxidants.
- Have a love-your-liver day and give the booze a miss.
- Take some exercise. Even moderate heartbeat-raising action is thought to help the lymphatic system (which fights infection), boost your immune system and speed up your metabolic rate (hence you burn more calories). Exercise also stimulates your digestive system, and gets feel-good endorphins whizzing around your body.