The holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes a never-ending array of sugary treats and high carb foods. This season comes with all sorts of traditions and festivities, which often feature food. It’s very easy to put on weight during the holidays, especially if you already have a few extra pounds. Comfort foods, eating out more frequently, stress from family, the demands of the season, and a whole lot of emotions often spur unhealthy food patterns and weight gain. Healthy holiday eating may not seem possible. But, you can avoid the extra pounds and stay healthy this holiday season.
Why is staying healthy over the holidays important?
According to one study, over half of weight gained in the U.S. is gained during the holiday season. Not only that, but studies show that the weight packed on during the holidays usually stays there the rest of the year. Many fall into the trap of eating indiscriminately during the holidays, promising themselves they will change their habits, eat healthily, and lose weight in the New Year. Those resolutions never come about. Year after year, a pound or two added to your usual weight and your health becomes at risk. So make this year different, and consider some ways to keep the weight off and maintain your health during the holiday season.
Is it possible to maintain a healthy diet over the holidays?
Just because the odds are against you does not mean weight gain is inevitable this year. It is possible to enjoy the holiday season without leaving it a pound or two heavier. Research shows that planning ahead can make a big difference in maintaining weight and healthy eating during the holidays. Find support from friends and family, choose a limited number of indulgences, stay active, and monitor your diet and weight through the season. So, make a plan that’s feasible and effective to keep yourself on track this holiday season.
Healthy Holiday Foods: Naughty of Nice?
This season’s ‘naughty’ food list
Butter and Fat
From the mashed potatoes to the cookies, butter is a popular ingredient for holiday gatherings. This food is high in saturated fat etc. And sour cream, whipped cream and cream-based soups add to the fat levels of your holiday feasts.
Consider ways to swap these ingredients for healthy fats or other options. Maybe this year you make the mashed potatoes with olive oil. Test the truth of applesauce being a viable substitute for butter in some of your baked goods. Try plain Greek yogurt in the place of sour cream in dishes. Or use low-fat dairy options, like skimmed milk instead of cream.
Sodium or Salt
One of the reasons you may feel bloated and uncomfortable following a holiday meal is the high amounts of sodium tucked inside. Traditional dishes with cream-soup bases, cheesy hash browns, or even your favorite baked treat can be loaded with sodium.
With just a few alterations, you can cut back on your sodium intake significantly. Look for turkeys without saltwater added. Try halving the amount of salt included in recipes and upping other spices to keep the flavor ramped up. Look for low-sodium options for premade broths and soups.
It’s very easy to overdo sugar during the holidays. An array of delicious desserts provides enough of a temptation to overload your system with sugar. Depending on the rest of your holiday spread, other dishes are likely storehouses of sugar, too. Ham and sweet potatoes traditionally prepared often have a high level of sugar.
It may not be possible to completely control your sugar intake, but here are some tips to help. If you are making the treat, try cutting the sugar in half. You can try substituting applesauce or adding more vanilla to make up for the lack of sugar. While it may be tradition to prepare sweet potatoes that ooze sugar, try convincing everyone that savory sweet potatoes are perhaps even more delicious. If all else fails, you can always choose to only eat one of your favorite treats or find someone to split a few samples with.
Foods on the ‘Nice” list this holiday season
The traditional turkey centerpiece is a healthy component to your holiday meal. As noted above, be sure your turkey has not been injected with a saltwater solution. As you season your turkey, be sure to limit salt and refrain from frying your turkey. Turkey is a healthy, lean protein. It’s also full of vitamins and minerals, like B vitamins and magnesium. It’s notorious for being high in tryptophan, blamed for post-feast sleepiness. However, turkey is not unusually high in tryptophan, and tryptophan is a key amino acid important for everything from your immune system to your mood.
Prepared without the usual overload of sugar and butter, this orange vegetable is one of the healthiest on the holiday table. High in vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, potassium and beta carotene – which converts into vitamin A, sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory as well as heart healthy and low in calories. Sweet potatoes give you a lot of nutrition in just one food.
Like many berries, cranberries are nutrient powerhouses. Full of vitamins and phytonutrients, high in fiber and low in calories, this fruit has tons of health benefits. They are linked to lower risks of cancer and heart disease. Cranberries are good for your digestive system, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The main hangup with these berries is the sugar most people add to make them more palatable. If possible, make your cranberry sauce from scratch to limit the sugar.
A bowl full of mixed nuts is one of your best options this holiday season. While high in calories, nuts are excellent sources of protein, healthy fats, and a wide range of other healthy components. Nuts can help promote heart health, improve your cholesterol, and aid brain function for mood, memory, and learning. Some nuts, like the walnut and almond, are particularly packed with nutrients that give your body a boost. Most nuts have healthy fats and components that promote health. Be cautious of how much of these healthy foods you eat both because of the high calorie count and because they are often coated in a layer of salt. If you are in charge of getting the mixed nuts for the party, consider unsalted or low salt options.
Even though the holidays are brimming with unhealthy and exorbitant meals, you are still in control of your eating and diet. A day or two of excess does not need to throw you completely off healthy eating, but you also can make some simple substitutions and choices to further reduce the impact of the holiday menus.