Faced with pizza, alcohol and desserts galore, how is it possible to stay healthy on holiday? Nutritionist May Simpkin shares her best tips (and yes – you can still have treats!)
A recent holiday to the Amalfi coast was a struggle! It certainly wasn’t the beautiful azure waters I was staring out into from my hotel room or the fabulous alleyways that I found myself perusing in the mid-afternoon sun, but it was actually the food that I struggled with.
Adopting the 80:20 rule for the duration of holiday allows for the inevitable indulgences
My approach for good health is simple; no counting calories or avoiding food groups, but simply ensuring balanced, healthy food choices. This means ensuring my meals are made up of plenty of vegetables, good lean protein and limited starchy foods like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. That was my problem precisely – it’s virtually impossible to order a meal that satisfies frankly any of these simple criteria. The ubiquitous ‘primi piati’ pasta or pizza dishes are the mainstay of any menu and the ‘secondi piati’ is essentially fish (great choice) with potatoes (not so great choice) and no vegetables (disaster!). Worse still, when trying to order a side salad, the choice is limited to just one……tomatoes and invariably with mozzarella.
Adopting the 80:20 rule for the duration of holiday allows for the inevitable indulgences, which after all are an essential part of any holiday.
Here are 10 ways to help you keep a balance during your holiday:
Your good intentions can disappear in an instant when searching for good options at the airport. Unless you’re at a large airport with plenty of choice, it can be difficult to find a nutritious meal. You can actually bring food through security and packing your own healthy lunch or dinner can be a perfect way to ensure you eat the food you want to eat, whether it’s at the airport or on the plane. How about:
- A whole avocado; you can prepare this on the flight using the cutlery provided on the in-flight meal tray or you can prepare it in advance. Cut the fruit in half, take out the stone and scoop the flesh away from the skin but keeping it in place. Slice each half into cubes and then put both halves back together, securing with an elastic band.
- Hard boiled eggs (if you don’t mind an evacuation thanks to the smell!)
- Hummous, with pre-cut cruditées such as carrot sticks or peppers
- Pre-prepared portable snack such as this sweet potato frittata
- Unsalted nuts or homemade granola
- Raw dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids (such as Raw Halo or Pana Chocolate) or energizing bliss balls
- Herbal tea bags to use with hot water on the plane (such as Pukka Herbs Three Cinnamon or Higher Living Ginger Kick)
- A refillable water bottle so you can avoid soft drinks or caffeine drinks to stay hydrated before and during the flight
Eat one big meal a day
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, decide which will be your main meal and try to make good choices the rest of the time. For example, at breakfast, limit the breads, croissants, pastries and fruit juices and instead opt for eggs, lean meats with plenty of fresh or cooked vegetables. Aim to have half your plate filled with vegetables. Otherwise, choose natural yoghurt with a little muesli and fresh fruit.
For a lighter main meal, choose grilled fish and vegetables or a side salad. These choices, with good protein and fibre content, will ensure that you are fuller for longer and less likely to snack in between. If you have a later breakfast, you may find you can miss out lunch and have an early dinner instead. If you’re heading out early and don’t have time for breakfast, a protein powder supplement is an ideal breakfast alternative to keep you going until lunch time.
Try to find out what the local delicacies are and experiment with different foods; after all, this is part of the holiday experience. Aim for the fresh vegetables and fruits on offer, these are great choices to indulge on. Otherwise, enjoy the less healthy options at your main meal only. Find the local supermarket or market and buy in some local fresh delicacies to keep in your room to snack on.
Stick to your healthy ‘rules’ when ordering
Restaurants can be very accommodating
You don’t have to abandon your usual healthy eating habits just because you are ordering from a menu. Scan the menu for vegetarian or the grilled meat or fish choices and if these don’t include plenty of vegetables, order a side or two of salads or vegetables alongside. Perhaps even swap the rice, pasta or potatoes for a vegetable instead. Restaurants and hotels can often be very accommodating for specific dietary requests.
Choose when to have dessert wisely
If there is an unusual dessert that really appeals, go for it. Otherwise, think about whether you really want to eat this sweet dessert and if not, don’t bother!
Go easy on the alcohol
Perhaps a lighter beer or a vodka and soda rather than a sugary cocktail
It seems that each meal or pit-stop calls for an ice-cold beer or refreshing glass of wine whilst on holiday. Consider whether you really need this to be an alcoholic drink. Non-alcoholic choices such as a lime or orange juice with soda are certainly a refreshing alternative to quench your thirst and keep a few calories saved for later. If you’re not willing to budge on this, then make sure your choices are less calorific; perhaps a lighter beer or a vodka and soda rather than a sugary cocktail.
Don’t eat out every meal
Apart from saving money, this is a wonderful opportunity to investigate what the local supermarket has to offer. Invariably, you will come across some local delicacies, so why not pick something up and keep this meal a little more simple; local cheeses and fresh produce along with some freshly baked bread and find a spot to picnic.
One of the best things about arriving in a new destination is exploring the local area; its history, culture and sights. Try to do as much as this on foot or even by bike, as far as possible. Not only will you enjoy a more local perspective but you’ll also be incorporating exercise into your day in a fun and rewarding way. If it’s too hot during the day, take an evening stroll instead and opt for a few lengths in the pool during the day.
Look after your gut
Increase fibre to allow the good bacteria to proliferate
Boosting your good gut bacteria whilst on holiday can help ensure a healthy immune system and avoid unnecessary debilitating gut symptoms. In the first instance, limit sugars and carbohydrates that the bad bacteria thrive on and increase fibre to allow the good bacteria to proliferate. Taking a good quality probiotic that doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge can also help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome and promote healthy digestion. My choice would be BioCare Bio Acidophilus, £49.95 (available from Healthista Shop) which contains 10 billion probiotic organisms in a single capsule (that’s 20 billion when you take two!)
Consider a magnesium supplement
Travelling can play havoc with many of your normal body functions, including bowel movements and sleep patterns. Magnesium, the body’s aid for naturally calming, can help to relax your muscles and provide a gentle relief from constipation or muscle aches after a day’s sightseeing and can also help fight jet lag and promote a better night’s sleep. I take BioCare Magnesium Malate, £13.65 (available from Healthista Shop) which are capsules.
May Simpkin is a UK registered practitioner with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition. She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered with IFM, The Institute for Functional Medicine and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.