‘Tis the season to be merry and jolly! Here in the Philippines, we take the Christmas holidays very seriously. As many Filipinos know, Christmas starts in September and ends in February. During the so called Ber-months (September to December), most go out to shop, buy gifts and attend parties. The rush seems never ending, and the the traffic on the streets of Metro Manila becomes crazy. As a matter of fact, the topsy-turvy season already has term— the Christmas Carmageddon!
Christmas salo-salo (get togethers), office parties and family reunions take center stage and become the common preoccupation. However, as people take their celebrations, feasts and social gatherings to the next level, their health plummets down into a deep mess. Many end up feeling guilty after a binge night and are left wondering: is there even a way to balance being healthy and enjoying the holidays?
Luckily there is! I, for one, intensely love chocolate. Hot chocolate and chocolate bars and cookies are my go to comfort food. Earlier this month and towards the end of a busy year, I found myself easing off the gas pedal a little but. It’s Christmas season!, I thought, and holidays parties are happening left and right so I might as well take it easy on my diet and training. Tis the season to chill out a bit and I purposely allow myself to be flexible and reward myself for all the hard work I’ve done throughout the year. I set aside time for a family vacation in Baguio for some quiet time. I also celebrated with dear friends over steak and red wine. Can my two favorite comfort food—chocolate and red wine— be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle? Let’s check it our below!
Aside from containing antioxidants for overall detoxification, prebiotic fibers for gut health, healthy fats for cell membranes and theobromine for cognitive health, chocolate boost serotonin, the happy hormone. This mood boosting benefit is especially interesting to me because I often find myself easily stressed out due to overthinking. According to biohacker Dave Asprey, chocolate boosts our mood especially during high-pressure or stressful situations. No wonder I find myself craving chocolate whenever I’m stressed out—in and outside of work. When I dealt with my anxiety disorder during my teenage years, I constantly found myself conscious, pressured and stressed out. Now, even after resolving my mental condition through a healthy lifestyle, my body still craves a boost of serotonin. I learned that when I feel good about my body, I operate efficiently. That’s why I get my fix through exercise, real food and, from time to time, chocolate. So if you ask me are these Aztec food for the gods worth it? It definitely is, as long as you eat the right kind. For health benefits according to Mark Hyman, look for 85% cocoa or higher because the as the cocoa content goes higher, the sugar content becomes negligible. It also has has more fiber and healthy fats. Do check if the beans are single-origin, too, to avoid molds.
Chocolate, however, has a dark side too (no pun intended). According to Mark Sisson, cocoa is often grown in volcanic soils, which is high in lead and cadmium, especially in Latin America. Cocoa trees readily absorb lead and cadmium from the soil and this can contaminate the cocoa beans. Even after processing, these metals can still persist, however, there is a study that says these levels are relatively low.
Many chocolates also have a high sugar content. In my case, sugar really takes its toll on my body. I immediately feel brain fog or sluggish after eating a certain amount. I remember embarking on a chocolate and wine hunt especially for this blog entry. After eating one too many chocolate desserts, I started getting irritable and impatient. I couldn’t think clearly and I just wanted to go home. Pimples also started breaking out on my face the next few days— a sure sign of inflammation.
Alcohol: Is it worth it?
There’s only one benefit to social drinking — it’s social. Some of us are slow to warm up in social gatherings, I included. Breaking the ice can take time for me and opening up can be a laborious task. This may be why many social drinkers enjoy the company of their friends more over drinks and cocktails.
When choosing an drink, I’d always recommend red wine for its antioxidant compound called resveratrol. Resveratrol is a bioflavanoid antioxidant produced by certain plants and foods and are known to reverse aging. According to Dr. Josh Axe, resveratrol is believed to be one of the most potent protectors against symptoms associated with aging and free radical damage.
Sometimes, I also like pure spirits like whisky because it lacks the deadly sugars and carbohydrates. What I do is I dilute these spirits with carbonated water and add a slice of lemon and ice—your typical High Ball! What I love about the High Ball is it’s smooth nature. Studies also show that whisky has medicinal effects! True enough because after I drank a High Ball during that night of chocolate hunting, my stomach lost it’s bloat, my mind cleared and my irritability went right away.
Alcohol, like chocolate has a downside. It is a toxin that our bodies are simply not designed to metabolize. Whenever we ingest toxins, our bodies prioritize eliminating these first and puts all other metabolic processes on hold. Our muscles stop rebuilding itself and the fat we ate gets stored immediately as fat. This is why it’s the food we eat accompanying an alcoholic beverage that makes us fat and not the alcohol itself. Our liver and kidneys go into overdrive and we pee more often to eliminate the alcohol from our system. This can lead to dehydration and make us crave for salty food since salt helps us retain water.
There’s nothing wrong with social drinking. Just know your limits and drink lots of water. That hangover the next day is simply dehydration. Also, allow yourself to rest and postpone any heavy exercise the day after a wild night.