Savory and sweet treats are everywhere this season. Here’s how to enjoy the holidays while eating your favorite foods.

Your Health, Family Health | 6 years ago

Deck the Halls, Mind Your Plate

Savory and sweet treats are everywhere this season. Here’s how to enjoy the holidays while eating your favorite foods.

’Tis the season for feasting and snacking. Nutritious meals and healthy habits can easily give way to gobbling all things doused in gravy and sipping fanciful drinks loaded with sugar.

Research proves overindulging during the holidays means gaining at least one pound, and for those already overweight, experts estimate the average weight increase can be as much as five times more.

Harriet Davis, MD, a family practice physician at Carolina HealthCare System’s Carmel Family Physicians, says eating healthy and enjoying all the delicious flavors isn’t impossible. “The six weeks covering Thanksgiving and Christmas are for portion control,” explains Dr. Davis. “Make a food and exercise plan ahead of time. Have a purpose for your portions. Eat larger servings of healthy foods and smaller servings – one tablespoon – of more indulgent treats.” Dr. Davis also says cardio workouts – even two 10-minute brisk walks a day – are essential this season.

For a real say in the food being served, offer to host the meal at your place. “Volunteering to host or coordinate the menu or buffet gives you some control. Set the table with smaller plates, and after the big meal is over, put the food away so no one is tempted to go back and graze,” adds Dr. Davis. Festive dinnerware is a wise choice, too. Studies have shown guests eat less off red plates because, like a traffic light, the color is a subtle signal to stop.

If you’re trying to cook with healthier ingredients, there are cookbooks and websites to help alter recipes. Dr. Davis recommends keeping refined sugar to a minimum in breads and sweets by using applesauce, fruit, dates and Stevia. Non-dairy substitutes include egg replacements and flaxseed eggs. Favorite foods can be prepared and enjoyed in healthful ways. For example, instead of having a spoonful of butter-loaded, sugary casserole, have a baked sweet potato. A medium-sized sweet potato is full of vitamins A, C and D and is packed with fiber and iron.

Finally, mindset is important. “Food is fuel for the body, and holiday meals are for fellowship,” reminds Dr. Davis. “Start the day with a nutritious breakfast, or be sure to eat a light snack before heading to a party. When it’s time to gather around the table, eat slowly and taste the flavors – you’ll feel satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.” Instead of piling on the couch, Dr. Davis also recommends heading outside for a group walk after the meal.

Enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season with these additional tips:

1. Drink plenty of water one to two hours before an event or big meal. Hydration is the key to warding off hunger and decreasing thirst for high-calorie beverages.

2. Enjoy your cocktail with dinner, but remember: There can be just as many calories in the glass as on your plate. Be smart and opt for a tall, thin glass, as studies show less liquid is poured into tall glassware.

3. Scan the table and keep an eye out for color. “Green is good,” says Dr. Davis, “and try to include more vibrant colors – cranberries and yams – than white foods.”

4. Keep a balance between calories in and calories out by increasing how much you exercise. Park in spots farthest from store entrances when shopping. Set up weekday challenges, such as take-the-stairs Tuesday and walk-around-the-block Wednesday.

5. Get back on track if you overindulge. Don’t dwell in guilt. Experts say people who feel guilty after eating large amounts of carbs and sweets tend to gain more weight than those who don’t.