HCA Virginia Physicians
December 06, 2017

by Lusia Caparoula, DO

When the holidays come around, it usually means an assortment of cookies, cakes, stuffing, sauces, and hams. Gathering with friends and family is what the holidays are all about, and a good buffet only adds to the celebration. Trying to eat healthy foods can seem difficult, though, and may lead to guilt if you stray from your usual diet. If you are healthy and eat a balanced diet most of the year, the holidays may be the one time you can let yourself stray a bit. Try these tips to feel confident in your festive food choices.

  1. Cut Yourself Some Slack

    Consider the difference between fact and fiction. You know that gym memberships are going to be advertised through December. They will talk about holiday weight gain and inactivity, while topping it off with some guilt and shame. However, many studies show the average person gains only 1-2 pounds during the winter holiday season. The issue is that most people do not shed that weight, and it adds up over the course of several years.

    This means you can breathe a bit easier and think about how you would like to lose that pound or two, or maybe even not gain it at all. There are ways to navigate the endless sweets, gravies, and sauces, and still maintain your weight. You have heard it a million times, and it applies here...everything in moderation.

  2. Balance Can Be Key

    Like most things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. Here are some guidelines to help you get through the holiday season with ease:

    • Have a meal before going to a party. Try to stick to your normal eating routine as much as possible.
    • Have a healthy snack ahead of time. This will help curb your hunger and keep you focused.
    • When you arrive, check out the spread of food and alcohol, and make a plan.
    • Fill your plate with the good stuff first. That means getting to fruits, vegetables, or salad before the desserts.
    • Politely refuse food that you do not want.
    • Keep track of how much you drink. Alcohol adds calories to whatever you are eating. Consider drinking water in between.
    • Think about that 1 or 2 pounds. If you do indulge, cut back on something else to even yourself out.
  3. Stay Active

    Physical activity also is important. Stick as close as possible to your normal exercise routine. Even taking a walk around the block can be refreshing and burn some calories in the process. Schedule 30 minutes to do some sort of activity on most days of the week—remember that it is better to do something rather than nothing. In combination with your holiday eating, physical activity will help you maintain your weight and make you feel better overall. The holidays are meant to be fun, so do it on your own terms, and leave the bad feelings behind.

A Winning Lineup

The time from Thanksgiving until just after New Year's Day is somewhat of a nutritional black hole, but there are plenty of party foods that can fit nicely into your holiday game plan. The secret is to draft the best foods for your dietary lineup. Here are some of the most promising players in the typical holiday pool, and some tips for enhancing their performance:

  1. Pre-game Standouts

    • Shrimp cocktail—This lean source of protein is swimming in selenium, a potent antioxidant that boosts the immune system and is reported to help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Go for the extra point—dip in cocktail sauce instead of butter.

    • Antipasto—The vegetables in this Italian delight—peppers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms—are filled with phytochemicals, which are plant-based substances that boost immunity and lower your risk for chronic disease. Nosh on a few pieces of cheese for some calcium, which is essential for strong bones. Go for the extra point—savor just a couple slices of pepperoni and focus more on the vegetables in this dish.

    • Mixed nuts—Scoop up a handful of selenium, fiber, protein, vitamin E, and magnesium. While nuts are relatively high in fat, it is mostly the good-for-your-heart unsaturated kind. Go for the extra point—choose dry roasted over oil roasted, and add raisins or dried cranberries to the mix.

  2. Big Game MVPs

    • Roast beef—This choice is a solid source of protein, iron, and zinc. In the blood, iron carries oxygen to working muscles, and zinc speeds healing and injury recovery. Go for the extra point—trim visible fat before eating and go light on the gravy.

    • Turkey—Carve off a slice and you will get a good dose of protein as well as some iron with each serving. Dark meat contains more iron than the lighter parts. Go for the extra point—top slices of turkey with cranberry sauce instead of gravy

    • Stuffing—This is the ultimate dish for carbo-loaders. If it is made with celery, raisins, cranberries, apples, or nuts, you will get extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

    • Cranberry sauce—Whether you slice it or scoop it, this rich, tart sauce is excellent on its own or as a topping for turkey, stuffing, or potatoes. It also boosts fiber and phytochemical levels.

    • Squash—The pilgrim who introduced squash to the table was a true nutritional visionary. Dig in to the butternut, hubbard, or acorn varieties and be treated to a mouthful of flavor as well as a whole host of phytochemicals and the potent antioxidant, vitamin A. Go for the extra point—go easy on the butter often a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg is enough to bring out squash's natural flavor.

    • Green peas—These little guys are really legumes that are cousins to black beans, chickpeas, and lentils. More importantly, they provide a shot of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, and vitamin A, all in a bite-size package.

    • Sweet potatoes—These tubers are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and carbohydrates. All of this and they satisfy your sweet tooth with minimal calories and no fat!

  3. Overtime Stars

    • Pumpkin pie—This is a pumpkin's time to shine, and boy does it do its job well. Not only does this pie provide high levels of vitamin A and potassium, it also delivers a good supply of calcium and carbohydrates. Go for the extra point—skip the whipped cream.

    • Apple pie—This pie or any other fruit pie for that matter is delicious, especially if homemade. It is as close as most partygoers will get to eating fruit for dessert, and often slightly lower in calories than other desserts like cakes or pastries. Go for the extra point—top with low-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.

    • Sugar cookies—Yes, they are full of sugar, but they are still carbohydrates, so feel free to enjoy a couple of these sweets at the office holiday party. Go for the extra point—eat your cookies Santa-style! A glass of skim milk is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and several other vitamins and minerals.

  4. Hydration Team

    • Beer—Moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages, a maximum of 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men, is believed to decrease the risk for heart disease. Go for the extra point—stick with moderation and alternate with a few glasses of water since alcohol can lead to dehydration. If you do not drink, you do not need to start to get any benefits.

    • Red wine—While all alcoholic drinks are thought to offer some health benefits, red wine gets an extra healthful punch from the phytochemicals found in grapes. Go for the extra point—again, moderation is key.

    • Hot apple cider—In addition to providing the quintessential holiday aroma for your kitchen, hot apple cider adds a few extra phytochemicals, too.

As the Irish proverb says, “Laughter is brightest in the place where food is.” Enjoy yourself and your food this holiday season.