Your A-Z Guide to Healthy Holiday Eating

November 4, 2014 Providence Health Team

Your A-Z Guide to Healthy Holiday EatingA is for Alcohol: Alcohol can stimulate your appetite and cocktails are often loaded with calories. Cut calories by alternating between water and alcohol. Choose lighter options like wine or light beer over sugary cocktails or rich seasonal drinks like eggnog. Most importantly, drink responsibly, and always use a designated driver.

B is for Breakfast: Start your day with a healthy, satisfying breakfast. Skipping meals and starving yourself before the big feast can slow your metabolism, wreak havoc on your blood sugar and encourage overeating.

C is for Condiments: Gravy, sour cream, chutney, dips, butter, salad dressing, salt … all those extras we add to our food also add extra fat, sodium and calories without providing significant (if any) nutritional value. So be careful with condiments.

D is for Don’t Diet: The holiday season isn’t a time to try to lose weight. Temptations are unavoidable and can sabotage even the best weight-loss intentions. That invites feelings of failure and frustration that can railroad future health goals. Instead, focus on maintaining your current weight.

E is for Environment: Set up your environment to promote healthy eating. Use smaller plates and glasses to encourage smaller portions. Socialize away from the buffet. Don’t graze – it’s too easy to pop mindless calories in your mouth. Put food on a plate and sit down with others. If possible, hone in on a fellow healthy eater in the room whose healthy food choices can help inspire yours.

F is for Fancy Coffee: From pumpkin-spice to peppermint lattes, our favorite coffee houses love adding festive holiday drinks to the menu. But beware: While these liquid seasonal delights may warm our insides, a simple 12 oz. serving can contain a whopping 400-600 calories, as well as added fat and sugar.

G is for Guilt Trip: If you start your morning off with leftover pecan pie, cut yourself some slack. Eating “bad” food doesn’t make you a bad person. Studies show feeling guilty about what you eat doesn’t help you make healthier choices. In fact, it can encourage further over-eating. So give yourself a break and start your next meal fresh, not frustrated.

H is for Healthy Dishes to Share: Bring your own healthy dish to share at your holiday gatherings. Even if it’s floating in sea of creamed spinach dips, cheese fondue and fruit cake, you’ll know there’ll be at least one healthy option for you to enjoy.

I is for Indulgences: Don’t feel obligated to try every dish at the table. Indulge in those that you love and are unique to the season. Skip the foods you can eat anytime of the year. When it comes to mealtime, slow it down, pace yourself, enjoy conversations with others and pause between bites so you can listen to the cues from your body saying it’s satisfied – before it’s stuffed.

J is for Juicy Fruit: When you’ve had enough to eat, keep your mouth busy by chewing a piece of gum or sucking on a sugar-free mint. It’s also handy to ward off temptations when cooking or baking.

K is for Knowledge: Do a little research on basic holiday foods for a better understanding of exactly which nutrients and calories you’re putting in your body. For example, find out how many calories are in a glass of wine, “scoop” of ice cream, baked potato, serving of dark meat or a half-cup of mixed nuts.

L is for Leftovers: Everyone loves leftovers. But, during the holidays, they extend the feast and its high-calorie foods far beyond a single meal. Fill containers with leftovers and send them home with your guests.

M is for Meat: Do your best to prevent food-borne health hazards. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is properly cooked. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F, and red meat to 160 degrees F.

N is for “No, Thank You”: Practice your “no, thank you” and use it. Want seconds? Would you like an appetizer? How about a nightcap? Would you like your pie a la mode? … No, thank you.

O is for Office Snacks: From gift baskets to cookie exchanges, office snacks can get out of control during the holidays. To help combat cravings, keep those communal treats out of sight and have plenty of healthy alternatives like fruit, veggies and almonds at your desk. Before you grab that sugar cookie, take a quick walk around the office, climb a flight of stairs, or take a bathroom break. You’ll be surprised how quickly the cravings pass.

P is for Playtime: Take the focus off the food and add a little playtime to the festivities. Head outside for a scavenger hunt, snowball fight or soccer game. Make it interesting – have the losing team do the dishes! Take a walk before or after the meal to help digestion and prevent mindless snacking.

Q is for Quit Table Hopping: Between family, friends, in-laws and co-workers, it’s not unusual to have three holiday events crammed into a single evening. Even if you’re obligated to attend every gathering, make it a point to limit yourself to one meal. Trying to “just eat a little” at each event is rarely successful. Choose one house to eat at, and show up at the others before or after mealtime with games or activities that aren’t about food. Or consider hosting one huge gathering and bring all your loved ones together!

R is for Reduce Calories, Not Taste: Cook healthy versions of traditional holiday recipes that cut calories, but not taste. Consider taking the skin off the turkey, or choose skim milk and chicken stock over heavy cream in mashed potatoes. Substitute applesauce for oil when baking sweet breads. Top desserts with fresh fruit instead of sugary frostings. And replace crunchy fried onions with toasted, sliced almonds.

S is for Shop on a Full Stomach: Whether you’re heading to the mall or running to the market, don’t shop on an empty stomach. Food court temptations and sweet bakery treats are less likely to end up in your hands (and waistline) if your stomach is already satisfied.

T is for Tight Clothes: Pull on your skinny jeans or tighten the notch on your belt loop before joining in the holiday feast. This simple trick can be the difference between passing on dessert or having seconds on the apple pie.

U is for Use What Works: The healthy eating tips you use throughout the year can be applied to the holiday season, too! Use the ones you know work for you. Helpful ideas include stocking your kitchen with plenty of fresh produce, cutting down on red meats and opting for lean cuts instead, no liquid calories, understanding portion sizes or keeping a food diary.

V is for Veggies: Fill at least half your plate with vegetables and healthy dishes. But remember, not all vegetables are created equal. Traditional holiday favorites like green bean casserole and spinach or artichoke dip are high in sodium, fat and calories.

W is for Water: Between the sodium-rich foods and increased alcohol consumption, it can be difficult to stay hydrated during the holidays. So, make it a point to drink plenty of water. And keep in mind, our bodies often mistake thirst for hunger. Before you head out to a holiday event, drink a few glasses of water to make sure you’re properly hydrated and prevent overeating.

X is for X-ercise: Even if you can’t fit your morning run or regular visit to the gym into this busy time of year, find time to exercise for both your physical and emotional health. Find an exercise buddy who can help keep you committed. Try breaking up your exercise routine into two or three 15-minute workouts throughout the day. Every little bit helps.

Y is for Yuck!: If you hate carrot cake or oatmeal raisin cookies, but know others love them, consider making those for holidays events instead of your favorite recipes. That way a few won’t accidentally end up in your mouth before the cookie exchange.

Z is for ZZZZZZs: Lack of sleep not only makes us sluggish, it affects our immune system, our mood and can trigger weight gain. Certain foods and beverages impact a good night’s rest. To help prevent interference with your ZZZZs, steer clear of caffeine by the late afternoon and avoid alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.

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