Finding a Balance in Holiday Nutrition


There’s no way around it — most holiday foods are not very healthy, especially in the amounts that we usually eat them. Even seemingly innocent things like cranberry sauce are loaded with sugar, and our so-called vegetable dishes are often drowned in butter or cheese (or both). That’s not counting pie, cookies, or cakes… and don’t even mention eggnog.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be the party pooper who can’t enjoy anything, either. Spending the entire holiday season denying yourself all the lovely treats doesn’t make any more sense than pigging out through the entire month of December. Certainly you have to splurge and live a little sometimes, right?

This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You can indulge yourself without going overboard, and if you are the one in control of the food preparation, you can make some small substitutions that will add up to big differences in both fat content and nutrients.

First of all, enjoying yourself does not necessarily mean stuffing yourself to the gills every time you sit down to eat. In fact, there’s nothing I find more uncomfortable than being so full that I can’t move. Eat slowly and allow yourself to stop when you’re not hungry anymore — there are always tons of leftovers, so it’s not like you won’t get a chance to go back and have more later when you’re hungry again. There’s nothing wrong with eating anything you want on a special occasion, providing that you do it in moderation. This is especially true if you’re worried about gaining fat that you’ll have to take off after the new year. Having one piece of pie won’t kill you, but if you’re thinking about tucking into that third slice (come on, we’ve all been there at one point or another), maybe it’s time to wait a while. Go outside and get some fresh air for a few minutes; ask yourself if you really want to be doing this to yourself, or if what you’ve already eaten is enough.

Another way to temper holiday indulgence is to make it less damaging in the first place by sneaking in healthier ingredients. Dairy products, for instance, are a staple of holiday cooking, and almost all of them come in a low- or non-fat version that doesn’t really taste that different, especially if you’re mixing it in with something. If you use non-fat instead of full-fat cream cheese in a casserole, for instance, it is very likely that no one will even notice if you don’t tell them. Also, where snack foods are concerned, go for baked rather than fried, and if you’re looking for something to serve with your non-fat cheese and onion dip, try cutting up some carrots or broccoli to put alongside the baked potato chips. Usually people snack out of boredom rather than hunger, and they’ll eat whatever is put in front of them, whether it’s healthy or not, so you may as well have at least some healthy choices available.

Alcohol is one of the biggest enemies of good nutrition. It has an obscene number of calories, it dehydrates the body, and the long-term effects can go a long way toward ruining your health. You already know that you don’t like how you feel after you drink too much, and aside from the health concerns, sometimes the things you remember (or don’t remember) the following morning can be really embarrassing. This sounds like an obvious solution, but it’s one that people don’t seem to follow very often: if you don’t like what alcohol does to you in large amounts, don’t drink so much of it. You can have a glass or two of wine, enjoy the effects from that, and still have a great time without going completely crazy.

There’s no way of getting around it — the holidays are about celebration. But somehow we have equated celebrating with over-indulgence, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. You can have a lot of great food without completely ruining your eating habits, and you can let yourself go a little without derailing yourself entirely. Portion control and healthy choices aren’t about limiting yourself, they’re about having a good time while still maintaining the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Moderation in all things is key, even if you do stretch the limits of it for special occasions.

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