Christmas food good for sex

Experts say the traditional Christmas meal is a health timebomb. Bah, humbug, we say, because a festive feast is bursting with de-stressing nutrients that will put sizzle back into your sex life.

Sage, as we know, is essential for a good stuffing and in more ways than one recent research has proved. Scientists at Northumbria University have found that an extract of the herb reduces anxiety and stress, which are lethal for the libido. Professor Andrew Scholey says “We are optimistic about the potential for sage to improve mood”.

As many as one in three women loses interest in sex at some time and the most common reason given is stress. So if you’re looking for a festive frolic, here’s our guide to the benefits of the Christmas dinner.

TURKEY > This traditional roast is packed with protein but is still low in fat. Every cell in our bodies contains protein and it’s essential for the healthy working of most organs and production of vital hormones.

Turkey is a good source of zinc, a known fertility booster. High levels of this vital mineral are found in sperm fluid and research from the American Zinc Association shows if this level falls so can the number of sperm. Lack of zinc can also trigger impotence. Turkey also contains iron, which combats the tiredness associated with anaemia, phosphorus which strengthens muscles and potassium which aids kidney function and maintains the body’s water balance.

Another nutrient, tryptophan, is an amino acid which seems important for the immune system. Researchers discovered tryptophan metabolites, molecules formed when the body breaks it down, are as powerful as prescription medicines for combating some effects of multiple sclerosis. Tryptophan also helps to beat the blues by boosting production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.

SPROUTS > Christmas is one of the few days of the year when we hit the five-a-day target of fruit and veg that is proven to reduce cancer and heart disease risks.

Sprouts are the nutritional stars of the seasonal spread. A 2oz serving contains more than 60 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 40 per cent of the same of vitamin A. Research from Washington University shows Vitamin C may protect against DNA damage to sperm caused by toxins such as cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also makes sperm more mobile. Their bitter taste comes from compounds called indoles which appear to cut the risk of stomach, lung, breast and other cancers.

CARROTS > They have more vitamin A than any other veg and this helps to protect the cardiovascular system and to maintain sight.

They are also a rich source of vitamin K, which is very important for blood clotting. At least six studies have shown that the carotenoids which provide their colour reduce the risk of heart disease. A diet high in carotenoids has also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in older women by 20 per cent and cut the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon and larynx by up to 50 per cent.

PARSNIPS > This root vegetable is brimming with vitamin C and a great source of folate, a nutrient proven to reduce the risk of spina bifida and other birth defects.

The body also needs folate to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of all cells, and there is evidence it protects against cell damage that can lead to cancer. Tuck in if you’ve been overdoing the celebrations, as alcohol can deplete levels.

CRANBERRIES > These contain plant chemicals which stop urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria sticking to the bladder. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out the discomfort of a urinary tract infection like cystitis is a real passion killer.

SPUDS > Humble potatoes got a roasting with the popularity of the Atkins diet but as far as dieticians are concerned, they should never have been taken off the menu.

Potatoes contain more potassium than bananas and a shortage of potassium has long been known as a cause of cramps and heavy exercise depletes levels of it. But more recently strong evidence has emerged that a diet high in potassium keeps blood pressure down. One in five Brits suffers high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

PUDDING > Raisins are rich in iron, 3oz contains around a quarter of the recommended amount for women, who are often low in iron because of menstrual blood loss.

Nuts may be a no-no for people with severe allergies but for most of us they are a great source of healthy fats which cut the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of “lousy” LDL cholesterol. An American Heart Association study found people who ate a handful of nuts every day reduced their cholesterol levels by around ten per cent.

BRANDY > The artery-clogging saturated fats in brandy butter mean it will never be considered a health food. But brandy will, of course, lubricate your social and sexual confidence and it’s not surprising that Government statistics reveal a rise in the number of births in September.

More good news comes from researchers at Monash University in Australia. They discovered brandy is packed with antioxidants, some of which come from copper, picked up as it’s distilled. Dr Gordon Troup says: “When you are enjoying a slice of brandy-infused fruit cake or a drink of good-quality brandy over Christmas you can put your mind at rest that this amber liquid isn’t too bad for you at all.”

Evolution of the Christmas dinner

Humble pie, stuffed peacock and sugar mice have left our Christmas tables seemingly never to return. But what was it that forever pushed such dishes from our hearts and feasting?

To some, the Christmas institutions of turkey and sherry trifle are what make the season. But many other traditional recipes have faded into obscurity never to reappear on the festive table, leaving only a handful of retro staples.

Humble pie, which disappeared in the 18th century, was a concoction of deer ‘umbles’ including brain, liver and heart blended with suet, apples and currants. A treat that really defined Christmas for our forbears and now seems completely revolting, the pie recipe dates back to the 1700s and was mainly eaten by servants and peasants.

Animal offal was not favoured by the affluent set, who would instead have been treated to a banquet of force-fed wild boar head and roast swan, with a show-stopping stuffed peacock centrepiece.

The following course probably consisted of candied sweetmeats and fruits, all with enough spice and dye to take down a horse, but meant strictly for visual appeal only.

Now a protected species, the idea of catching a swan for the Christmas table is not only forbidden by law, but would turn the stomach of even the least environmentally friendly. And peacocks disappeared from the menu soon after the demise of the frivolous Elizabeth I.

But what happened to sugar mice, a children’s favourite for generations? Once hung on Christmas trees around the country and stuffed into every stocking, these candied animals with string tails have lost popularity, replaced by chocolate Santas and Mars selection boxes.

But not so long ago children would hang their stockings and wait for them to be filled with a few exotic treats like oranges, nuts, and candy mice.

Although the obligatory satsuma and nut selection may remain, health conscious parents have discarded the mice on the grounds that they are pure processed sugar and surely bad for teeth. So it seems we only cling onto a few steadfast recipes that have evolved to suit more modern 20th and 21st century palettes.

Mince pies, derived from medieval minced pies, were once rich and fruity, bursting with orange peel, brandy and beef remnants. Although the recipe remains, the tradition of adding meat was discontinued in the 1800s, and beef suet replaced it instead.

Now in another update of the ancient recipe the beef suet has been dropped in favour of a vegetable alternative, and some manufacturers even tout their pies and puddings as a functional food.

Meanwhile the unchanged hardy perennial Brussels sprouts, surely every child’s favourite, date back to 1587 where they were first cultivated in Belgium. Although the strain is thought to originate in Roman times it was not until their migration further north that they started to plague our festive spreads.

Now seen as an important weapon in the fight against cancer, the cruciferous vegetable is definitely here to stay with thousands of tonnes about to be consumed this season in the UK alone.

Clearly, unabashed appreciation of all things retro and twee is never greater than at Christmas time. Yet even this annual splurge of nostalgic references cannot quite stretch to innards of deer. But, we’d like a recount about the sugar mice.

Happy Christmas!

Turn a holiday twist > make breakfast the main attraction

The Christmas holiday breakfast is becoming more popular each year, and it’s easy to understand why.

You can offer a formal morning meal for less money than you’d spend on a dinner. You can do it early in the day, leaving you time for other commitments. And you can make many of the dishes ahead, which should free you up to spend more time to enjoy those around you.

Some people stress and fuss over party meals so much that they can’t relax and, consequently, neither can their guests. That’s because too many people don’t get themselves prepped. To get yourself organized, start with the menu. The good stuff is worth the effort. That means no skimping on the centerpiece, whether it’s sausage, bacon, smoked salmon or seafood.

Forget pancakes. They must be served immediately and that ties you up for the entire meal. Waffles, on the other hand, can be made before guests arrive and held in a warm oven to stay crisp. Plus, you can create a toppings buffet that lets everyone add fruit, whipped cream, butter, syrup or nuts. Crêpes can be made several days in advance and stored in a stack with waxed paper in between. Wrap them in a moist paper towel.

Before guests arrive, remove waxed paper and warm the crêpes to 300 degrees in the oven under a moist paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Then let people fill their crêpes with their choice of sweet or savory fillings, from strawberries Romanoff to chicken hash.

Quiches, egg casseroles, strata and frittatas can all be made ahead and slowly reheated or served at room temperature. Eggs and French toast are always inexpensive dishes to make, but they don’t have to taste that way. Dress up a frittata with crab, lobster or wild mushrooms. Use smoked salmon or shrimp on eggs Benedict. Mix up your French toast batter a couple of days in advance and flavor it with a liqueur such as Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Kahlua or Frangelico.

Mimosas and bellinis are breakfast standards, but let me suggest something slightly different: Mix peach purée with Moscato d’Asti, a semi-sparkling wine with a light touch of sweetness.

But the menu is only one part of the party to consider. Set a convenient time, such as 10 a.m., that is not too early for you or too late for your guests to go without a morning meal. Let your guests know how special they are by setting an elegant table. And don’t hold back. Set the table just like you would for a dinner party.

Merry Christmas and Bon Apetite! 

Eat, drink and be wary of morning after night before

Posted On December 30, 2006

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It’s the time of year when we’re gearing up for a month of festive cheer and bonhomie, when we eat, drink, make merry and feel hellish the morning after.

You know the symptoms: a banging headache, lethargy and a tummy that’s screaming out for some TLC. But this is no winter bug, it’s the sign of a self-inflicted hangover thanks to over-indulgence during the party season.

Not only are puddings over-egged, but stomachs over-stuffed and heads over toilet bowls, as the full impact of seasonal excess hits home hard. After all, if we consume a gluttonous 6000 calories on Christmas Day alone though food and drink, when you multiply that by the countless invites to festive dining that are sent out by friends, relations and workplaces, it’s no wonder that our bodies are left with a desperate need for Alka Seltzer and a lie down.

More than 17 million working days are lost each year in Britain through hangovers, according to government research, and an estimated two million people will fail to turn up for work over the festive season after downing too much drink or food during parties, losing the economy some £110 million.

Yet, while everyone knows what causes a hangover, getting rid of one is another matter. What should be remembered is that a hangover isn’t just about having a bad head, but muscle cramps, indigestion, tiredness and dizziness. And, of course, once a hangover has kicked in, there is no way of stopping it, all you can do is alleviate the symptoms.

The British Medical Association advises taking aspirin or ibuprofen to get rid of the headache, drinking fluids to offset dehydration and eating foods high in carbohydrates and fructose (a natural sugar found in fruit juices and honey) to deal with nausea.

But while many will turn to painkillers to curb that morning-after-the-night-before feeling, not all are ideal.

Aspirin, for instance, is an anti-inflammatory drug and is effective for treating headaches, but if you have acid indigestion it should be avoided. Ibuprofen is also an anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever, but again not great for those with indigestion. Paracetamol is a kitchen cupboard favourite because it’s a highly effective pain reliever, but remember the maximum dose you can take in 24 hours is 1000mg – that’s two tablets, four times a day. Overdosing can lead to liver damage.

There are other options. For a start you could try Hangover Hotch Potch Bitters, available from Napiers Herbalists’ Stockbridge and Teviot shops. It is a herbal solution which should leave you feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as long as you take a little in a glass of water before you go out, another dose before bed and one more first thing in the morning.

Loretta Seagrave, shop manager at the Hamilton Place branch, says: “It has a lot of bitter herbs that stimulate the digestion, some ginger for nausea and there are also tonic herbs in it like milk thistle which have traditionally been used to benefit the liver.”

Peppermint and chamomile are also good for sensitive stomachs, while artichoke and feverfew are ideal for hangover headaches. Lavender oil is also soothing for a painful head, add two to three drops to a carrier oil and massage into the temples or neck.

At Holland and Barrett you can stock up on Evening Primrose Oil which contains essential fatty acids to keep cells strong and healthy, which could help prevent the need for a big fry-up.

Similarly, Cynara Artichoke supplement, available at Boots, contains extract of dried artichoke leaves, which stimulates the liver to help break down and eliminate fatty foods and alcohol from the body. Also at the high street chemist, you’ll find Vitabiotics Wellwoman Fizz, dissolvable tablets which produce a cranberry flavoured drink, combining B-complex vitamins, Goti Kola, Gurana and L-Carnitine, which should make you good again.

Apparently, the fitter you are, though, the quicker you’ll bounce back from a hangover. Malcolm McPhail, health and fitness director at the Next Generation club in Newhaven, advises:

  • Being fitter makes you more capable to cope with hangovers.
  • If you do have a hangover, the best thing to do is a bit of gentle exercise such as a nice walk or a couple of miles on an exercise bike. And don’t use a steam room. It will only make you more dehydrated.
  • Drink plenty of water in between alcohol. And the following morning, rehydrate with sports drinks.
  • Rather than having a big greasy fry-up, I would recommend something light such as scrambled eggs on toast. And steer clear of milk, as it’s too heavy on the stomach.

If all else fails, then there’s always the hair of the dog.

That wonderful mix of vodka, sherry, tomato juice, Lee & Perrins and Tabasco is almost a meal in itself. Or if you need a stronger kick-start and think your stomach can take it, try a Prairie Oyster, brandy, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, vinegar and an egg yolk. You never know, it could work.

  • Clear thinking needed to fend off the hangover from Hell.
  • Drink plenty of fluid to counteract the dehydrating effect of alcohol; aim to drink twice as much water as booze.
  • Eat something sugary to counteract the alcohol’s blood-sugar lowering effect.
  • Choose your favourite pain relief but beware the stomach-irritating effects of aspirin.
  • Take an indigestion remedy, which contains an alginate – a compound which forms a protective layer over your irritated stomach lining (ask your pharmacist).
  • Vitamin C may help.

Web links >
Alcohol Focus Scotland >
Health Education Board for Scotland – alcohol >  
Alcohol Concern > 
Alcohol Information Scotland >

Have a hangover-free Christmas

On the 12th day my true love suffered indigestion. Don’t let that happen to you. Find out how to overcome those festive ailments, from drinking too much to sore feet.

You feel terrible! Why did you have that last cocktail? If you feel trapped on the festive treadmill, all those parties, all that shopping and all those rich meals to wade through, Christmas can seem more of a trial than a treat. Late nights, rich food, too many sneaky cigarettes, bad breath can strike all of us. In fact recent research estimates that four in 10 people worry about it.

Bad breath is one of the hidden complaints. You either know you have it and are devastated, or you don’t know you have it and devastate those around you. The good news is, it’s easy to correct. Keep a toothbrush and some whitening toothpaste in your desk drawer or handbag.

Two-thirds of those questioned admit to putting on a stone in weight as a result of stuffing themselves, as well as the turkey, over the Christmas holidays. It’s hardly surprising as a traditional plate of Christmas dinner can contain 1,300 calories, that’s without the pudding, the drinks and that indulgent breakfast.

Even making small changes can help. Have a light breakfast like fruit instead of a fry-up. Choose stuffing made from chestnuts or dried fruit instead of sausage meat and save 100 calories and 11g of fat per serving. Try to take a walk instead of slumping in front of the television on Christmas Day and the exercise will aid digestion and help burn off a few calories.

You’ve partied like Paris Hilton, gone on shopping sprees that would put Wayne Rooney’s girlfriend Coleen McLoughlin to shame and worked as though overtime is going out of fashion to hit deadlines before the festive break.

It’s little wonder Christmas Day is renowned for people snoring on the sofa. By the time December 25 is opened on the advent calendar, we’re all exhausted. Exhaustion can make you feel irritable, overwhelmed and depressed. In the run-up to Christmas there’s a tremendous amount to do. People cram everything in with work and home and that combined with the party season and late nights leave people struggling through the day.

Pace yourself in the build-up to Christmas. Try to tackle things one by one and make lists so that you set yourself manageable targets. Amongst the busy times with friends and family, allow some space for yourself and your partner. Sleep is a handy tool to combat exhaustion. It’s important not to have too many late nights or drink too much, which can affect sleeping patterns. Go to bed at a reasonable hour with a camomile tea. Herbal sleeping remedies are good because they don’t make you feel zonked out the next day.

Celebrating the festive season with one cheeky tipple can rapidly turn into excessive merriment and a few too many empty wine bottles for the recycling bin. Whatever your poison, a spinning room, thumping headache and a quick dash to the bathroom are often part and parcel of the morning after the night before.

It’s estimated 17 million working days are lost to hangovers each year and the festive season is sure to be high on alcohol-induced sicknotes. The best advice is not to drink, but if you do indulge, follow these tips for preventing a hangover:

  • Limit yourself to one drink per hour. The body can process alcohol at a rate of about 15ml per hour, the equivalent of about one small can of medium strength lager.
  • Eat a meal before you start drinking. Food helps to absorb alcohol, giving the body more time to process it and reducing the risk of a hangover.
  • Drink plenty of water to counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
  • Intersperse alcoholic drinks with water to avoid the ‘morning-after thirst’.
  • Avoid drinks that contain large amounts of congeners, as these tend to cause more severe hangovers. Generally, these are dark-coloured drinks such as red wine, brandy, and port.

Staggering around with laden shopping bags or dancing the night away in sky-high stilettoes can add up to some serious aches and pains. A little commonsense goes a long way. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes when you’re on a major shopping mission.

If you don’t want to give up your dancing shoes, try invisible gel cushions. These nifty gel pads slip inside your shoes and cushion the balls of your feet. Available from major pharmacies.

Eating on the run during shopping trips, indulging in too many rich meals or gobbling down suspect party snacks can also cause festive misery.

Around 37 per cent of people suffer from a stomach complaint, indigestion or bloating over Christmas, according to another survey. Get relief from bloating and trapped wind with gel capsules, from supermarkets and pharmacies.

The bizarre abounds at Christmas

Chubby British children are reaching for fruit and vegetables this Christmas while Japanese shoppers are being tempted by the ultimate treat, a Christmas cake decorated with diamonds.

As for Father Christmas, he is gallivanting happily in cyberspace but faces a tough time down on earth as children tug his beard, sneeze all over him and wet his lap.

Cash tills may be ringing on the internet but in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, festive cheer is in short supply.

With a week to go, Christmas offers its usual diet of weird and wonderful tales around the world and 2006 is no exception.

With bad diet and sloth pushing up obesity rates in England, a self-help group of chubby little Londoners is getting together for weekly classes on nutrition to help them resist the culinary excesses of Christmas.

In Osaka, opulence reigns supreme.

A department store has found a way to have your cake and eat it too by offering a 100 million yen cake festooned with 100 diamonds.

“The patissier who made it said he felt that chocolate and diamonds are what a woman most wants to receive,” said a store spokeswoman.

Santa and his reindeer certainly seem to be having a hectic time on the information superhighway.

Internet bloggers have given voice to a host of Santas who do everything from rail against tacky Christmas lights to confess their fondness for non-fat almond lattes.

They battle to lose weight, give updates on the latest reindeer babies and send YouTube clips to help with wishlists from the ever hopeful.

But filling Santa’s boots in cyberspace isn’t easy.

“You have to have a really distinctive voice and personality. . . to stand out,” said corporate blogging consultant Debbie Weil after reviewing the rash of Santa blogs.

But when it comes to a sack full of presents, Santa is more than likely to be coming through cyberspace than down a chimney.

Online retail sales are predicted to hit a record high in Europe’s three big economies, Germany, France and Britain.

And shopping mall and store Santas face a tough job trying to stay cheery.

They get routinely sneezed on, have to fend off children who pull their beards and mop up after those who frequently wet their laps, a US survey showed.

Bethlehem, once a magnet for tourists and religious pilgrims, offers a gloomy prospect as Israel ratchets up security.

Drink salesman Abu Khalil, who has hardly sold a miniature-sized bottle of scotch in the festive season, said: “It’s miserable. I have to say it is very bad.”

But the thirsty camel who crashed an Irish Christmas party had no complaints.

Staff at a riding school were forced to postpone festivities after Gus the camel, who was to star in the Christmas show, chomped his way through 200 mince pies and several cans of Guinness stout beer intended for their party.

Eat, drink and be merry

Posted On December 17, 2006

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But forget the full English breakfast and traditional caffeine-laden pick-me-ups for a healthier lead into the New Year.

How anyone can face the full egg-and-bacon works with a hangover has always defeated me, but the logic is that when you line your stomach with grease, however late in the day, it prevents more alcohol from reaching the bloodstream. There are more sensible ways to start the day, though, and to be kind to your poor beleaguered liver at the same time.

Take lecithin for instance: not tops for tickling the tastebuds but in a league of its own for liver support. Its main active constituent is phosphatidyl choline, part of the phospholipid family: these are the chemicals that facilitate the movement of fats in and out of the cells,  just what you need with rich festive fare. Take two teaspoons of lecithin, available from supermarkets and healthstores, daily for breakfast, either with cereal or live local yoghurt and a spoonful of honey.

Vitamin B is always a casualty of alcoholic over-indulgence; replace some elements of the complex with a breakfast banana and wholemeal toast and Marmite. Smoking, active and passive, kills Vitamin C so upping your intake with breakfast is imperative if you’ve been out on the razzle. All citrus fruits are a good source and look for fruit juices fortified with extra C. Better still, make your own juices from fresh; if you can face a ‘green drink’ in the morning, believe it or not raw broccoli, Brussels sprouts and green peppers make a delicious VitC-rich juice combination. Don’t overload your system with caffeine: it only makes the liver problem worse.

“Take more water with it!” is often the laughing comment for those who over-imbibe to the point of falling over, but water is hugely important. Most of us fail to drink our two daily litres in the winter because cold water isn’t appetising when the temperatures drop. Amazingly, hot water, as in the temperature you like your tea, is quite palatable; do try it, you may be surprised! Or a try a cleansing green tea, like Clipper brand with aloe vera.

A brand-new product just caught my attention: Bion*3. It was launched  recently and appears to be an excellent supplement, put together by manufacturers Merck in an innovative way to preserve the potency of its ingredients, essentially vitamins, minerals and probiotics in one capsule. Probiotics replace the essential ‘good bacteria’, killed by alcohol, which your gastric tract needs for proper metabolism of dietary nutrients. Food manufacturers have jumped on the gut-health bandwagon and produced drinks they claim replace good bacteria in the gut but they are sugary and basically a waste of time. Bion*3 is unique: it protects the probiotic layer of the pill within an enteric coating which means the good guys can resist the stomach’s acids and make it through into the intestines.

The product also has the full Recommended Daily Dose (RDA) of Vitamins A, B, C and D. I don’t believe the RDA is actually accurate any more, but it’s the only standard we have and Bion*3 fulfils the criteria well: find the product in local pharmacies. This festive season I shall be taking it last thing, to improve my Vitamin B and C levels overnight and get those miracle probiotics to where they’re needed, ready for the next round of merrymaking.

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