Food poisoning should be a significantly greater concern than any worries about over-indulging when lavish meals are served up during the Christmas holidays.

Health Institute researcher Chris Irwin suggests a number of simple eating and drinking rules that will help keep our bodies in good shape and in good health leading into 2012.

“It’s important, first of all, to acknowledge that food is an integral part of celebrations at this time of year,” Mr Irwin says.

“One of the risks, however, is food poisoning, which can result from eating food such as chicken or turkey that has been left out of the fridge for too long.

“These tend to be huge slabs of meat which are in and out of the fridge for days and which are constantly being re-heated. More damage can be caused by not handling food properly than eating too much of something nice.”

“Prawns are also a high risk food that many people eat at Christmas. They’re not good if you’re pregnant, they’re not good if they’re off but they’re perfectly healthy if eaten fresh.”

Chris Irwin is a dietitian and nutrition researcher at the Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice and Innovation at Griffith University. Among his tips for a nutrition-friendly Christmas, Mr Irwin suggests moderation, smaller portions and avoiding high-fat, high-sugary snacks.

“If you’re going to nibble, why not replace the peanuts, lollies and chips with fresh stone fruits. If you want to over-indulge, why not over-indulge on fruits and salads? We have the perfect climate for these kinds of foods.”

Mr Irwin advises not to go to Christmas parties hungry or you will run the risk of munching too heavily on the hors d’oeuvres. He says drink diet if you’re going to drink soft drinks, and suggests ginger beer is a good alternative to beer.

“If you’re drinking beer, drink equally as much water. Have a glass of water first, before you drink any beer. This helps to fill you up, which may help to reduce your alcohol consumption and it also helps to reduce any dehydration that may come from drinking alcohol.”

Brussels sprouts, traditional once-a-year fare on many Christmas plates, are top of the seasonal nutrition list and can be eaten with abandon.

Rich Christmas cakes don’t get the same tick of approval, but shouldn’t be dismissed either. “It’s not too bad if you don’t overdo it. And it’s much better without the icing, which increases the calories that it contains.

“It’s also a good idea to keep Christmas short, not let the festivities run on and on. If you’re worried about putting on weight this Christmas, don’t let one day of festivities turn into a week of indulgence.

“It’s also important to understand the trade-off. The calories will come off again if you’re prepared to work hard.”