How to fill yourself up this Christmas and never gain a pound

The festive season requires some guerilla tactics if you don’t want to arrive at New Year wearing what you ate at Christmas! So, here are some simple tips to keep your weight in check, and still enjoy the pleasures of good food, drink and company.

1. Always eat protein with carbs. Combining protein with carbohydrate works because protein, being made of amino acids, makes the digestive environment more acidic, and this slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates. So, the food spends more time in your stomach, making you feel fuller for longer.

2. Add lemon juice and vinegar. If you increase the acid level of your food by adding lemon juice (citric acid) or vinegar (acetic acid) you get a similar effect. In a study (Diabetes Care, January 2010) on type 1 diabetics, adding two tablespoons of vinegar to a meal lowered its glycaemic load (as measured by plotting the rise and fall in blood sugar levels after the meal) by 20%. The vinegar resulted in less high blood sugar spikes.

This study provides some scientific basis for the old wives’ tale about cider vinegar and weight loss. In practical terms, this might mean eating a salad with a vinegary salad dressing, drinking a citron pressé (minus the sugar) with food, or adding balsamic vinegar for flavour to a meal. For example, try ‘steam-frying’ Brussels sprouts and adding a little balsamic vinegar in the last few minutes of cooking. Research has also found that adding lemon juice or vinegar reduces the formation of ‘anti-glycation end-products’ (AGEs), the harmful oxidant compounds that are formed when food is cooked.

3. Load up on soluble fibre. Soluble fibre, for example the variety found in oats and barley, really fills you up and lowers the GL of a meal. So make the most of the colder weather to eat lots of porridge or make a warming dish with pearl barley instead of rice. A study conducted by Dr Joseph Keenan of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, showed that eating barley makes you feel less hungry. Dr. Keenan fed a group of overweight people with high cholesterol the same diet, but either with barley muffins, high in barley bran and beta-glucans, or wheat muffins. The groups who ate the barley muffins felt significantly fuller and more satisfied throughout the study than those who ate the wheat muffins. “We attribute the improvement in satiety almost entirely to the beta-glucans,” said Dr Keenan.

“Foods rich in beta-glucan stay in the stomach for a longer period of time compared to foods low in this fiber. That leads to a feeling of fullness, or satiety.” Those eating the barley muffins lost, on average, half a pound per week – while those who ate the wheat gained half a pound per week. Also, those who consumed the beta-glucan-rich muffins had significantly reduced total cholesterol (11%) and LDL cholesterol (12%). “This is a very significant result,” said Dr Keenan. “Such reductions are estimated to produce a 20% reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.” You can buy wholegrain pearl barley, which boils like brown rice. It is also full of beta-glucans and soluble fibre and has a good flavour – quite chewy. Chewing is good because it means you take a little longer to eat your meal.

4. Wait 20 minutes before dessert. This allows your ‘appestat’ (your internal appetite gauge) to kick in. Even better, go for a stroll after your main meal, then have your dessert afterwards, which also helps stabilise blood sugar levels. If you eat immediately after exercise your body burns it off faster.

5. Drink ‘dry’ and limit juice. More and more evidence is linking regular consumption of both sweetened soft drinks and even ‘natural’ fruit juices with increased weight gain and diabetes risk. For example, a large study of 59,000 women (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2008) found that drinking two or more sugar-sweetened soft drinks increases diabetes risk by 25%, while drinking two or more fruit juice drinks increases risk by 31%. So neither are good news. But what may surprise many is that fruit juice appears worse. This is because fructose, while low GL, rapidly converts into fat if taken in excess.

Nature always supplies fructose with fibre – but we remove the fibre when making juice. Actually, the same increase in diabetes risk was not observed in those drinking grapefruit juice, which has a low GL, or orange juice. Even so, you need to be careful not to overdo the orange juice. The best fruit to eat, and drink, are those high in a type of sugar called xylose, which means berries, cherries and plums. So, if you need to use a juice, maybe in a dessert recipe, use Cherry Active. For example, have a Plum Crumble, sweetened with a little Cherry Active (which you can buy online at Totally Nourish).

For alcohol, choose the driest drinks – for example, a dry red or white wine or Champagne. For a real treat try Faust, my favourite organic champagne, available from Vintage Roots. And if you really do over-indulge and need to shift some pounds – or would just welcome some more guidance on eating well to avoid weight gain – there’s always my Low-GL Diet Made Easy book and Food Glorious Food for some fantastic recipes.