‘Tis the season for overeating
Ah, the holidays…the season of gift giving, parties and, if you’re not careful, weight gain. Most of us are still snacking on the leftover Halloween candy, and the next thing you know it’s Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Throw in a couple of holiday parties and it’s tough to maintain the healthy diet you’ve worked so hard on the rest of the year. In addition to all the holiday celebrations, comfort foods that most of us crave this time of year can also cause problems because they are usually high in fat and salt.
We asked Mallory Doolan, RDN, a dietician at Falmouth Hospital, for her advice to help people eat healthy, despite the pitfalls of the extended holiday season. Here are her tips:
Embrace What’s in Season
Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables as often as possible will help keep you on the right track. Five servings of fruits and vegetables every day are ideal, Doolan said. This time of year, apples are fresh and they are high in fiber, which is good for digestive health. Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene, which is an anti-oxidant that helps your immune system as we head into cold and flu season. Many fruits and vegetables also have vitamin C.
“The big focus is getting all your fruits and vegetables in because then you’re going to get a wide variety of nutrition,” she said. “Eating different colors really helps with getting different nutrients because color is associated with different phytonutrients. Plus eating any food in season is going to give you peak ripeness.”
Bring Your Own Dish
If you are invited to a holiday party or open house, Doolan advised that you bring your own dish. That way you will know how it is prepared and what is in it. It will also give you something you like to eat if the other party choices are not as healthy as you prefer. And main dishes are not the only thing to consider. If you bring a dessert, you could make it a healthier choice that is fruit based.
“Drinking plenty of water will keep you feel full and it will help you avoid overconsuming liquid calories,” Doolan said. “It’s kind of mindless to keep sipping something when you are in a conversation and suddenly you have had three or four of any kind of drink and those calories add up really quickly.”
Don’t Skip a Meal
The holidays are busy times for all, and it’s easy to skip meals, but you will be more likely to overeat if you do. Doolan recommends having a snack before you go. A perfect snack combines two food groups, like peanut butter and apples, yogurt and nuts or hummus and veggie sticks. This will ensure that you don’t overindulge on the high-calorie hors d’oeuvres, but you will still be hungry when the main course is served.
Moderation is Key
If you love gravy, use it sparingly and skip the green bean casserole. Or when you make the green bean casserole, leave out the cream of mushroom soup and fried onions and sauté the beans and add fresh herbs for flavor.
On holidays most people are hungry and excited and tend to eat faster as a result. Being mindful of how full you actually feel is always a good practice, but especially at this time of the year when temptations abound.
“Enjoy your food,” Doolan said. “Take small amounts and eat it slowly. If you wait and let your body digest the food more slowly, you will probably discover that you are actually full after all.”
Comfort Food Can Be Healthy
This is the season of stews, chili and stick to your ribs dinners. It’s what our bodies crave in the colder months. Doolan explained that these dishes can be tweaked to be healthy and still taste terrific.
“Those dishes tend to be higher in sodium because you are using a canned broth or canned ingredients,” she said. “Little tweaks make a big difference.”
Using chili as an example, Doolan offered a way to enjoy a seasonal favorite in a healthy way.
“You can use a lean protein like ground turkey,” she said. “If you prepare your own broth, you will cut sodium. If you prepare your own beans instead of using canned ones, you can also cut sodium. You can put in tons of vegetables and you are going to have a really healthy and delicious meal.”
Don’t Deprive Yourself Entirely
In Doolan’s family, a favorite dish on Thanksgiving is her southern sister-in-law’s hot fudge pie. She would not miss it for the world.
“It’s okay to have your favorite treats,” she said. “Enjoy them but try choosing a smaller portion or sharing a portion with someone. A lot of times, you just want that little taste. You don’t always need all of it.”