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Ten easy ways to make holidays heart-healthier

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The holidays are a time when family and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company and of course, to eat! Indulgent meals, bountiful buffets, cookie swaps and holiday parties make it more challenging during the holidays than throughout the rest of the year to eat right. Each year, on average, we tend to gain about one to two pounds according to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and most of that weight is gained over the holiday season. A few easy-to-make changes can ensure you maintain your commitment to a healthy lifestyle this holiday season while still enjoying yourself.

  1. Make simple ingredient substitutions to your favorite recipes. Most don’t sacrifice taste and no one but you will ever know! Try replacing:
    • salt with fresh herbs and spices
    • lard or Crisco, with olive oil or canola oil
    • oil in baked goods with half applesauce or banana
    • full-fat sour cream with low-fat sour cream or plain low-fat yogurt
    • white flour with half whole wheat flour
    • regular chicken broth with low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  2. Offer to bring something healthy to a holiday get-together. You will ensure you have something nutritious to eat and the other guests will appreciate it. A fruit salad or a tossed green salad are good options to offset the traditionally heavier holiday fare.
  3. Get creative with fruit-forward dessert treats.  Consider grilled pineapple with cinnamon, fruit sorbet, a trifle with angel food cake and layers of fruit, or muffins with grated carrot thrown in. 
  4. Lighten up on alcohol. A serving of alcohol is typically 100 to 150 calories, but that doesn’t include sugary or high-caloric ingredients that usually come with cocktails. For instance, a cup of eggnog can include 250 calories or more for just a single serving. Use low-calorie mixers, such as no-calorie tonic water to help reduce added calories. You can also make healthier ingredient swaps without sacrificing flavor: use low-fat milk in your eggnog and cut the amount of cream in half, or, skip the booze entirely and drink a carbonated water with lemon instead.
  5. Bump up the veggies. Switch out those nutritionally empty white rolls for an extra vegetable on your holiday dinner table. Try broccoli or brussels sprouts sauteed in olive oil and garlic, or roast some carrots with orange juice and a drizzle of honey. Aim for veggies on half of your plate.
  6. Get zesty with citrus. Experiment with adding flavor to salads with lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange juice in place of oil. An inexpensive hand juicer makes it easy to extract juice any time you want it and can be found at almost any store that carries kitchenware for about $5. But, simply squeezing juice into a bowl does the job, too. Try Citrusy Spinach Salad with Walnuts, which incorporates fresh grapefruit and orange juice to make a low calorie, and low-fat, lively dressing for greens.
  7. Add a splash of heart-smart vinegar to flavor foods. Vinegar tends to brighten the flavors of a dish, and brings sweetness and a bit of tartness without adding calories, fat, or salt. Try adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to chicken or vegetables such as mushrooms or brussels sprouts at the end of cooking.  Fruity vinegars such as raspberry balsamic, red wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar make great salad dressings, too. 
  8. Think about portion size. You get most of the pleasure from treats in the first few bites, so why not stop there? If you have a sweet tooth, a good plan is to keep your portion to no more than 150-200 calories. Use miniature plates, bowls, and ramekins to make mini desserts. 
  9. Choose fancy coffees carefully. Look for skinny or light versions of your favorite coffee drink.  Ask for skim instead of whole milk or cream. Your drink will be just as tasty and lower in saturated fat. Tell the barista to hold the whip; whipped cream adds about 7 grams of saturated fat to your drink.
  10. Start new traditions that don’t revolve around food. Take a drive to see holiday lights. Catch up with a friend while taking a walk, instead of meeting for a peppermint mocha latte. Or, do a puzzle together while watching a holiday movie.

Be realistic.Aim for setting holiday goals around health that are attainable, such as moving your body every day and filling half of your plate with heart-healthy foods like fruit or vegetables. Most importantly, focus on adding more joy to every day during this special time of the year.

Written by Stacey Kendrick

Stacey has a masters degree in health promotion from the University of North Carolina. She has over 20 years of experience as a health educator and fitness professional. After a career at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Stacey has been continuing her passion for helping people live healthy lifestyles by freelance writing that is focused on health, wellness and nutrition.
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