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Cheers to a healthier holiday

Family having a Christmas dinner
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Healthy Holiday Hacks

Looking for alternatives that can decrease the fat and calories in holiday staples? Noel Slaughter, RD, recommends trying the following swaps.

— Plain Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise or sour cream in dips.

— Bake or roast sweet potatoes rather than covering them in marshmallows

— Sautéed or roasted vegetables instead of creamy casseroles

— Raw cranberry relish rather than sugary cranberry sauce

— Pumpkin or fruit “cobbler” rather than pumpkin or fruit pie (simply leave the crust out and add an oatmeal crumble topping)

The holiday season is upon us and in addition to the joys of friends, family and fun, the season also brings lots of tasty treats.

While some seasonal foods are actually good for us (think, sweet potatoes, nuts, and cranberries), many holiday morsels can be calorie bombs (egg nog, gravy, and cookies). And often, high fat/high calorie holiday foods can masquerade as healthy – like sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows, pecans in a sticky sweet pie, and cranberries cooked with tons of sugar.

“It’s hard to get away from high calorie and high fat treats during the holiday season,” explains Noel Slaughter, RD, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “They are at the office, they are at home, they come to us as gifts… It’s easy to over-indulge. But for most people, the impact of a little holiday indulgence isn’t as serious as you may think.”



In fact, a 2018 study found that in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, most people gained an average of just a pound and a half – far less than is commonly thought.

Researchers in that study point out that many people may feel heavier during the holidays, but what they are actually feeling is bloating – not weight gain.



This can be due to many holiday-related factors, including the fact that we eat more carbs than usual during this time.

“When we eat a lot of carbs, our bodies store the extra as glycogen,” Slaughter explains. “Holding onto more glycogen leads to a feeling of sluggishness. It can also cause bloating which makes our clothes feel tighter.”

In addition, many holiday foods contain a higher than usual amount of sodium which can cause our bodies to retain excess fluid and lead to bloating.

While neither the glycogen nor the fluid is true weight gain, it can leave you feeling heavier. Fortunately, both issues resolve once you return to your regular diet.

While the researchers found that actual holiday weight gain was minimal, they also concluded that making mostly healthy choices during the holidays can help to prevent any weight gain at all.

So, what do healthy holiday choices look like? Well, for starters, moderation.

“In general, good nutrition is about moderation and portion control,” Slaughter says. “It’s the same during the holidays. If you eat healthy most of the time, an indulgence at a family dinner or a party won’t have much of an impact.”

Another good holiday strategy is to aim to have as much color on your plate as possible. Most pale foods tend to be fairly light in nutrients, whereas brightly colored foods are rich in nutrients and tend to be less processed.

“We like to decorate for the holidays with lots of color – we need to treat our plate the same way,” Slaughter says. “Fruits and vegetables add flavor, nutrients and fiber. A colorful plate will feed your body well and help you to feel full longer.”

Slaughter likes to have at least a couple servings of fruits and vegetables at every meal. Fresh vegetables can also be a great appetizer, helping to stave off your hunger while also providing nutrients.

Another seasonal calorie trap, according to Slaughter, is beverages. Holiday drinks and cocktails tend to be very high in sugar, adding empty calories and potentially leading to poor judgment with food choices.

“Alcoholic and sugary drinks are everywhere during the holidays,” Slaughter says. “Apple cider, egg nog and cocktails can pack a lot of calories. Consider alternating your cocktail with sparkling water – there are lots of flavors available, with no added calories or sugar. You can add a little cranberry juice to make it festive.”

Finally, Slaughter encourages us all to savor the season and enjoy an occasional treat without guilt.

“I advise people all the time – when it comes to nutrition, it’s what you do most days that matters, not what you do once or twice a year.”


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