Off the heels of Halloween and on the verge of upcoming holidays like Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, now is the perfect time for us to go over some key strategies to maximize enjoyment and minimize damage to your waistline and overall health. Our nutrition expert, Prerna Uppal, has kindly penned a nice post highlighting some typical ways we keep ourselves and our patients healthy through the holiday season. You will also be rewarded at the end of the post with a delicious Diwali dessert recipe that can be enjoyed by readers from any background.
Here’s to a Healthier Holiday Season by Prerna Uppal
Winter is almost here and the holiday season is around the corner! There is excitement in the air as we look forward to connecting with friends and family and preparing traditional foods. However, it also means that we will be attending more parties, eating out, and spending time indoors with reduced physical activity. It is important to prepare and plan ahead to keep the holiday spirit while maintaining our resolve to eat healthy.
The average American will gain weight during the holiday eating frenzy that starts with Thanksgiving and continues on to Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. How much weight the average person gains during the holidays has always been a subject of much debate. It was thought to be 7-10 pounds but now studies show that the average weight gain is just one pound!
Although this may not sound like a lot, what is concerning is that this weight is not lost, post holidays. Also, studies indicate that people who are already overweight, tend to gain more. Dr.Ron and I also see significant worsening in key numbers like cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure during the holiday season.
To keep your weight gain in check this holiday season, let’s focus on eating mindfully. It is possible to enjoy a healthful lifestyle during the holidays as long as we are mindful and eat in moderation. You can feast during the holidays without gaining weight and constantly stressing out about how to shed those pounds. All it takes is some judicious planning, tweaking some traditional recipes, substituting with healthier ingredients and choosing wisely at your holiday parties.
- Don’t arrive at a party famished. Attempting to skip your meals the day of, to ensure no overeating takes place, may often backfire, leaving you too hungry and susceptible to bingeing on unhealthy foods.
- Eat a small, healthy snack before to take the edge off. Greek yogurt topped with berries and nuts or vegetables with guacamole are nutritious fillers that will stave off your hunger and help curb temptations.
- If your party is a potluck, take along a healthy dish to share, which you can fall back on as well. This damage-control strategy has rescued me at many a holiday party!
- Be sure to make exercise a regular part of your holiday schedule. Park further away at the mall, plan daily walks with your house guests and get a fitness tracker to track your daily steps! Use your smartphones and apps to make healthier choices even at the grocery store Check out the ewg website and read Dr.Ron’s review of their food score app to help you make smarter choices.
- For some holiday fun, plan a family contest to see who walks the most steps during the holiday season or do some family winter gardening and prepare the soil for spring bulbs.
- Before a party I always prepare my muscles for the extra holiday carbs. Exercising uses up stored glycogen in your muscles making room for the carbs from your next meal. Read about carb trafficking so you understand this concept and read this to learn how to do one of our favorite carb burning exercises.
Keep in mind, with the changing seasons and daylight savings, it is harder to muster the motivation to exercise after work in the evenings. Try to exercise first thing in the morning or take advantage of the fitness options at your work. I know cold weather tends to keep people indoors, but walks and hikes in colder weather are particularly energizing and you don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion cutting your workout short!
- Recreate some family recipes to fit them into your healthier lifestyle while keeping the traditions alive. For example, try coconut milk eggnog or deviled eggs with guacamole. Afraid of eggs? Read this.
- Be sure to keep the healthy fats in your recipes. Not all fats are bad fats. We need fat for satiety (that feeling of fullness after a meal), and it is also needed to help absorb the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) from our vegetable dishes. Include monounsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and good quality saturated fat such as organic, grass-fed ghee, butter and virgin coconut oil (VCO). Afraid of saturated fat? Read this.
- When possible, opt for baking instead of frying
Substituting unhealthy ingredients with healthy alternatives to pack in the vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Coconut milk or homemade nut milks
- Coconut sugar, maple syrup, molasses or raw honey
- Organic grass-fed ghee
- Anti-inflammatory oils, such as avocado oil, EVOO, VCO
- Nuts and seeds such as chia, flax and hemp
- Dried fruits/nuts, such as dates, walnuts, almonds (dried fruits do contain excess sugar, so use sparingly)
- Healthfully navigate the buffet table. Start off with salad and veggies, so that you are less hungry when you get to the calorie dense fare. Keep in mind that eating vegetables before your carbohydrates may help dampen the spike in glucose and fat-storing insulin. Read the post on rice for more details. I have a sweet tooth and like to take a peek at the dessert options so I can plan for it to avoid overeating.
- Go easy on the alcohol. Start off with sparkling water, or if hosting, get creative and have some infused water with mint, lemon and any other fruits/vegetables of your choice as healthier alternatives. Although red wine does have antioxidants, hard liquor and beer provide empty calories and offer no nutritional advantage.
- “Out of sight, Out of mind”- don’t hover around the bar and buffet table. Holidays are meant for connecting with friends and family, so enjoy the conversations and holiday cheer. Focus on meeting new, interesting people and on having fun instead of on the food and drinks.
- Taste and sample whatever appeals to you, so you don’t end up feeling deprived. It is certainly okay to enjoy your occasional indulgence but be reasonable about your portion sizes and the number of servings you take.
- When hosting, some healthy suggestions for your party platter: An assortment of nuts or raw vegetables with a full fat greek yogurt, guacamole or hummus dip.
- Plan a post-feast family walk. A 20 minute walk may not come close to burning off your entire meal, but it can blunt the spike in glucose and lipids that occurs after meals.
The holiday time also tends to be a very stressful time with all the holiday shopping, family expectations and additional responsibilities. If not managed effectively, it can result in emotional eating, a few more inches on your waistline and can compound the stress. Make time for some relaxing rituals to unwind from all the frenzied activity of the season by soaking in the tub and enjoying bubble-baths, meditating or simply lingering in bed with a good book. Read up on stress and heart rate variability (HRV) here if you need some additional motivation.
Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday season- let’s face it, holidays are a time of indulgence, and splurges are to be expected. Just be mindful and make your splurges more the exception than the rule and your waistline will cooperate. Remember, just as you continue to focus on healthy meals and snacks, don’t forget to include exercise on a daily basis along with meditation and sufficient sleep.
And on Thanksgiving, should you get carried away and get stuffed, don’t be hard on yourself. Eating and occasionally indulging should not be a source of stress. Get back on track the next day- start by exercising before eating breakfast, eat a little less and be thankful, that Thanksgiving comes but once a year!
Since Diwali, the festival of lights (or as I like to call it, the festival of delights!) is around the corner, Dr. Ron and I would like to wish our readers a very Healthy and Happy Diwali and an auspicious New Year!
In honor of Diwali, enjoy my “Diwali Mithai” recipe! You’ll love the ease of preparation as well as how nutrient dense it is- a good source of antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, as well as protein, fiber, healthy fats and best of all, the sweetness is sourced from natural sugars. For all of our non-South Asian readers, “Ladoos” are beloved Indian desserts shaped in round balls, typically made with unhealthy cooking oils and excess amounts of sugar, so this is my more nutritious version. Enjoy in moderation.
Fruit N’ Nut Ladoos
(by Prerna Uppal)
Dates, 1 cup pitted and chopped
Walnuts, 12 halves
Cardamom, 2 green pods, shelled and crushed in a mortar and pestle
Dessicated coconut, 2-3 Tbsp
Raw, virgin coconut oil, 1 Tbsp (optional)
1. Roast the nuts for a few minutes in the coconut oil and set aside (can be dry roasted)
2. Peel the cardamom pods and crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle
3. In a food processor, add the chopped dates, roasted nuts and the crushed cardamom
4. Blend coarsely
5. Shape into balls
6. Roll in dessicated coconut
Prerna Uppal, MS, RD, CDE