Enjoy festive food without the guilt, says nutritionist

Food is something we should enjoy without feeling guilty, according to Dr. Marianne Walsh, Nutrition Manager with the National Dairy Council, who has prepared some tips for savouring the festive flavours this season, including a recipe by Chef Brian Mc Dermott to try at home.

“This time of year can tempt us to overindulge and we may become concerned about putting on weight or feel guilty; but we need to remember that eating is a regular part of our day, every day, so we should have a positive relationship with food”, says Dr. Walsh. “Acknowledging that we need to choose wisely to nourish our bodies with the energy and essential nutrients we need is important; as well as remembering that we all deserve a treat from time to time as part of a healthy, balanced diet”.

Establishing a positive relationship with food can mean matching foods which are good for us in the proportions that are right for us by including delicious flavours and foods we enjoy which are accessible and convenient. Here’s a few simple steps to nurture a good food attitude this festive season:

With so much food on offer, try to avoid over-eating by being mindful of portion sizes. Use a smaller plate and remember that extra food or leftovers can be kept for later.

Try not to skip meals or avoid eating because you’re trying to manage weight - you may become ravenous and ultimately risk overindulging.

Take your time when you are eating. It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain you are full, so enjoy the taste and savour the flavour of your food.

Ask yourself why you are eating – are you hungry or is it possible you are actually thirsty, eating out of boredom or just because others are eating?

At parties and gatherings, try and stand away from the nibbles table to avoid constant temptation!

Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week for adults, and at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity for children every day. Wrap up and catch up with friends and family!


The Department of Health's Food Pyramid provides healthy eating guidance for adults and children over the age of five years. Foods are categorised into groups with guidelines on the number of servings to aim for from each food group on a daily basis. It is advised to include a variety of foods to ensure a good range of vitamins and minerals but to limit foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.

As part of a balanced diet, the Department of Health’s Food Pyramid recommends three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group per day, with this recommendation increasing to five daily servings for those aged 9-18 years. Low-fat options are advised and examples of one serving include a 200ml glass of milk, a 125ml carton of yogurt or 25g of cheddar-type cheese.

This season provides simple and delicious ways to include the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group in a healthy, balanced, festive diet. Why not enjoy a warming bowl of milky porridge sprinkled with cinnamon; a post-Christmas turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and brie/grated cheddar; a milky hot chocolate treat; stewed fruit with low-fat custard/yogurt ;or impress guests with an Irish cheese board.


With the start of the New Year many people consider resolutions or diet – with fad weight loss or ‘detox’ diets all too common. “These diets can be extreme and unbalanced. It is important to be realistic,” says Dr. Walsh .”

Gradual and effective changes, which can become new habits, are recommended if you want to achieve results which can last… It usually takes about a month to make a new habit feel like routine, so perseverance is key. Keeping a food diary can help to track your dietary habits and to identify barriers to healthy eating.

"Dieting should not compromise your nutrition. You still need to achieve your recommended intakes of nutrients," says Dr. Walsh . “Dairy is often misunderstood when it comes to body weight management. Whole milk, however, typically contains just 3.5% fat, low-fat milk 1.5% fat and skimmed milk has no more than 0.5% fat. The fact is that the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group can easily be included in a weight loss or a weight maintenance diet, with this food group offering a range of lower-fat options which remain important sources of nutrients. For example, milk provides a natural source of calcium, protein, phophorus, potassium, iodine, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12.”


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