Making smart eating choices can help you enjoy your favorite holiday foods in a heart-healthy way.
Planning ahead can help you navigate the hazards of holiday overindulgence.
The holiday table dazzles with familiar favorites and special treats. In the setting of family, friends, festivity, and fun, the willpower to make healthy food choices can quickly evaporate. Although one blowout meal doesn’t negate a year of positive choices, you can help avoid January regret by taking a strategic approach to your food choices during the holiday months that will protect your heart and please your palate.
Plan your plate
“Practicing a balanced plate mentality will get you far in avoiding excess fat and calories,” says Stacey Nelson, outpatient clinical nutrition manager at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Start by filling half your plate with the vegetable offerings. Don’t worry if the dishes contain a small amount of sauce, as long as veggies remain the main focus of your plate. Once you have the vegetables in place, you can add a palm-sized portion of protein and a small scoop of a starch such as potatoes or stuffing.
When it comes to protein, Nelson wants to debunk the mandate to always choose white meat. An ounce of dark meat turkey has only 10 additional calories and 1 more gram of fat than an ounce of breast meat. If turkey’s not your thing, Nelson suggests you try other lean protein options such as pork loin, roast chicken, or salmon.
Take a trip to the Mediterranean
Even the most traditional holiday meal can assume a heart-friendly Mediterranean twist, says Nelson. In many cases you can replace butter with healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil to lower your quotient of saturated fat without losing taste. “You also can try mixing slivered almonds or other nuts into a salad or stuffing,” she says. For more playful cooks, a grain-based side dish such as couscous with chickpeas and dried cranberries can be a fun addition. When it comes to dessert, you can never go wrong with an offering of fresh fruit. For an elegant touch, try serving a compote of mixed berries in a crispy meringue shell.
Save room for exercise
The scheduling of the holiday meal—a midday feast versus an evening extravaganza—is a topic of hot debate in some families. Whenever you choose to dine, Nelson says to make sure it is early enough in the day so you have time to fit in some physical activity following the meal. “There is literature that says getting some activity in the hours after you eat can improve your sensitivity to insulin,” she says.
Strategies for smarter holiday eating
You need a good game plan before you’re tempted by sumptuous foods. Try these strategies when you head out to holiday parties.