Anyone trying to eat healthfully knows the holidays are a challenging time. Traditionally, we celebrate the season with huge meals, sugary treats and too many glasses of our favorite spirits.
None of that is helpful to anyone trying to maintain a svelte waistline, or a strong body. Following are five tips for eating more healthfully this holiday season.
1. Drop the salt shaker and grab the oregano
Around 90 percent of Americans of all ages consume too much sodium, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All that added salt can cause blood pressure to rise, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
So, skip the salt. Instead, spice up your dishes with more healthful ingredients, says Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and senior clinical nutritionist at the NYU Langone Medical Center's Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Sports Performance Center.
"Adding fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary, dill and thyme to your holiday fare will up your intake of rosmarinic acid and other highly effective antioxidants," she says.
2. Don't spoil good foods with bad add-ons
Many of the foods we eat during the holidays are healthful in their "naked" state. They include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
The problem is that we don't leave nature well enough alone. "We add so much fat, salt and sugar that the health benefits can be eclipsed by the health detractors," says Jennifer Bruning, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
So, drop the extras and let the great natural flavors of those healthful foods shine through.
"Look for lighter versions of your favorite recipes to tame the calories without losing your traditional favorites from the table," Bruning says.
3. Choose lower-calorie hors d'oeuvres
Hors d'oeuvres are the Trojan horse of unhealthful foods. Because they are bite-sized, people tend to view them as relatively harmless.
However, the very fact that they are so small can lead you to pop one, two or five of them into your mouth without thinking. Suddenly, you've created a health problem.
Heller urges you to be sensible when eating hors d'oeuvres. "You can save hundreds of calories with a few easy changes" she says. Examples include choosing:
- Raw vegetables over cheese
- Salsa over creamy dip
- A small handful of nuts over pigs in blankets
- Shrimp cocktail over mini-quiches
4. Try to make water your friend
Eggnog at Christmas, champagne on New Year's Eve, hot toddies and your favorite microbrew at parties in-between – it's easy to get carried away with holiday spirits.
But all of those drinks can take a toll on your waistline. For example, just one beer contains 150 calories, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Those spiked drinks give you more than just a feeling of levity -- they also add an alarming amount of calories, without giving you any real health benefits," Bruning says.
So, it might be best to stick to water or other low-calorie beverages. If the holidays lack fizz without your favorite booze, at least follow a regimen of one low-calorie beverage for every alcoholic drink you consume.
5. Help out your friends and loved ones
Even if you aren't worried about your own health or waistline this holiday season, chances are good that a loved one could use some help and support.
"Most of us know someone with heart disease, diabetes or even problems with alcohol," Bruning says.
If you are hosting a holiday feast, you have a great opportunity to show your guests that the holidays can be delicious without endangering anybody's health.
"Think of everyone at your holiday table: Will they be OK with a meal loaded with fat, salt and sugar?" Bruning asks. "You don't have to scrap every holiday tradition, but try to make small adjustments in the usual spread to allow your loved ones to truly relax and enjoy the meal."