Thursday, December 23, 2010

It’s the Season to be Jolly… Not to Eat à la Folie!

The holidays: the time to live your vacation, get lots of gifts and enjoy time spent with friends and family; after all, it’s the season to be jolly, no? However, it’s also the time when you eat, dine, chew, drink and then eat some more.But if you are the type of a person who watches what he/she eats or if you are following a certain diet, the huge amounts and delicious choices of foods will be a major stressor in your life. You’ll have a small bite of this, a larger bite of that and you’ll end up feeling guilty with extra 5 kilograms at the end of the jolly season!
Well, we don’t want that to happen and we don’t want you to sit around not eating anything either!

So, in order to be well equipped, know what is preferable to eat and what is not before, during and after the jolly season. This way, you’ll participate in feasts and end up guilt free!

·         Cheeses Choose white unfermented cheeses or low to medium fat cheeses  that contain less than 20% fat by weight such as Baladi, Akkawi, Double Cream, Ricotta, Majdoule, Cottage cheese, Feta, Parmesan, Sylphide, Presilege, Hochland light, Philadelphia light, Mozarella and Halloum light. Not all light cheeses are “light”, they are just lighter compared to the non-light version so reading food labels is necessary. The lighter it is, the better. You can find cheeses with 7% fat! Now, cheeses such as Boursin, Kashkawan, Cheddar, creamy cheeses, blue cheeses like Roquefort, Gouda, Gruyere, Halloum and Brie are all high in fat and avoiding them is just best. These contain more than 30% fat, just so that you know.

·         Meats & Co. – Always go for lean types of meats, also known as “habra”. Even if fats are not visible to the naked eye, trust me, they are there. So choose from chicken breasts, turkey, lean beef, fish and seafood. Don’t go for the greasy meats, goat and lamb meat, bacon, ham, deli, pork, sausages, gigot, fried eggs and fatty beef. Organ meats are also considered high fats such as liver, heart and brains. You might also want to ask how foods have been cooked because fried and sautéed meats are no good news whereas grilling, broiling, roasting, boiling or steaming them will definitely cut your calories down!

·         Vegetables – Vegetables are your ticket to feel full. When you are invited for a dinner, start with a salad of green veggies with a light dressing and then eat your main course. You should watch out for fried vegetables and in Lebanon, we are famous for the fried zucchinis, eggplants, and cabbage. Note that fried mushrooms and broccoli are also found in Chinese food, well everything is fried about Chinese food! Also know that peas and corn are not considered to be free food like other vegetables, instead they are starches. So have more parsley, lettuce, rocket, cabbage, broccoli, beet roots, carrots, tomatoes, mint, asparagus, mushroom, watercress and palmetto.

·         Fruits – All fruits and vegetables are recommended! They supply your body with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water and lots of fiber! However, dried fruits, which you find practically everywhere during this season, should be consumed in smaller amounts because they are more concentrated. It’s also a good idea to avoid any caramelized fruits, dipped in cream, ashta, honey or sugar.

·         Fats – You’ve probably heard this many times now, but it’s true. Butter, ghee (samne), and margarine are best avoided. Instead, use “healthier” types of fat like oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, olive oil and canola oil, but in limited quantities, you know after all, they are fat. Watch out for hidden fats as well: some foods could be sautéed in butter, some sweetes like baklawas, pastries, tarts and cakes could be smothered with extra ghee!

·         Nuts – You’ll see them everywhere during the holidays! Cashew nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, “bzourat” everywhere! Well, nuts are considered as the “OK” fat in the dietetic world. But you know that everything should be in moderation, right? So if you are tempted, just take a handful of unsalted nuts and stick to that!

·         Dressings and dips – Be creative and make your own: mix tomatoes, spices, bell pepper, mustard, ketchup, vinaigrette, herbs, vegetables, lemon, oil, Tabasco, garlic, pickles, onions, even A BIT of mayo or avocado! However, buying ready made dressings like blue cheese, Caesar, sour cream or thousand island dressings are not what I recommend. They’ll just add up to your calories and increase your fat intake.

·         Drinks – It is best if you ingest your drinks before you eat by half an hour or after by an hour and a half, this is because liquids with foods could distent your stomach and decrease enzyme’s efficacy in digesting. Now the serious talk, water is what I mostly recommend but during the holidays, alcohol and soft drinks are what worry me the most. To start with, if you are to take a soft drink, always go for the diet version. But it’s not like I’m recommending you to drink as many cups as you want, try to stick to one. Now for the serious talk, alcohol. Most people relate their happy holidays to unlimited consumption of alcohol which only turns back at them in the end. Know that alcohol is directly associated with fat and thus it is not a free calorie drink like most people think. It’s quite the contraire so be wise. You can have a glass of wine, a can of beer or a small spirit shot just for the holiday’s sake, but that’s just for once or twice during all the holidays. (Just wait for a detailed article about drinks during Jan!)

·         Sweets – Yum yum yum; you see them everywhere during this jolly season: from buche de noel, cheesecakes, chocolate fondants to people insisting that you take the “mlabbas” or the holiday’s chocolate with liquor. Your strong will must take over no matter how many people insist that you’ll just restart your diet after the holidays. Have a piece of plain cake, one “mlabbas” or piece of chocolate and enjoy them, but try control your sweets intake during this season especially that they are just everywhere. Don’t dwell over a piece of cake that you missed, have it, but have the will to stick to ONE piece.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
The choice of foods is huge! If you eat a tiny bit of every high fat or high sugar food I mentioned, you’ll end up gaining unwanted weight! So it’s ok to eat a piece of cake and have a glass of wine, but know that moderation is the key!

1st Image courtesy of Cooking Confidential Blog, 2nd image courtesy of iskandals, 3rd image is from Sheknows website and the wine image is from the high field wesbite.


  1. oooh i love so exhaustive!

  2. I had no problem with my weight but now that I am 41 I have started to gain weight even by breathing. My problem during Christmas is the sweets. I love them and eat a lot, but I will try to watch out this year. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Katerina well it's actually normal because as you grow, your body's ability to burn on itself decreases, same goes for your body muscle mass that usually helps burn out more of the calories you take in. So if you keep the lifestyle habits you lived by when you were in your 20's, you are definitely prone to increase a bit of weight. Whereas a good idea would be to increase your physical activity while adjusting your intake to your age, weight, height and level of activity. So enjoy your meals during this jolly season but watch out what you eat between new year and chrismtas not the other way around :)

  4. Great information! I'd actually rather have your spinach and strawberry salad over a lava cake...that looks fabulous!

  5. Just saw your blog and will now follow it.....great posts and very informative.

  6. @ Lizzy, I can't get the chocolate lava cake out of my heart hehe

    @ Erica, thanks a lots! And it's ok not to follow these for a meal or 2 during the holidays lol, but considering them for a lifestyle is a great idea!