HEALTH BEAT: Keep the balance this holiday season

Published 6:42 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

‘Tis the season of get-togethers, with family and friends, filled with lots of celebrating and eating. For some, this may be a stressful time of year when it comes to the temptations of delicious holiday foods and beverages that can add extra pounds. Most holiday dishes are loaded with excess calories, sugar and fat that can lead to eating more calories than our bodies need. One holiday meal can pack more than 1,000 calories per plate.

Healthy eating tends to be the last thing on everybody’s mind. However, there are many ways you can enjoy this holiday season and still make healthy food and beverage choices. Instead of focusing on weight loss during the holiday season, focus on weight maintenance. That means you are maintaining your current body weight throughout the holidays. These tips can be applied at any gathering you attend throughout the season.

Keep the balance this year! Including fruits and vegetables as part of a regular eating pattern is optimal for everyone’s health. During the holidays, fruits and vegetables that usually are low in calories can be less healthful when sugar or saturated fats are added, which is often the case. When cooking fruits and vegetables this year, add garlic, herbs and spices to add flavor. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. This will help balance your holiday plate with lower calorie options. Fruits and vegetables also contain fiber. Fiber will fill you up and help prevent overeating.

Use a smaller plate. Sticking to a plate no larger than 9 inches in diameter can allow you to enjoy your favorite foods but in smaller portions. Make sure to choose your favorite or most-loved dishes. Slow down and take time to enjoy the meal and the taste of the food. This will make you feel more satisfied. Choose low-calorie beverage options, including water, diet soda, unsweetened tea, or non-fat or low fat milk. Drink water throughout the day or a large glass of water before a meal. This can help you feel full and prevent overeating.

A lot of excess calories and sugar can be avoided during the cooking process. Here are some cooking tips to make healthier holiday foods:

  • Use non-fat or fat free dairy products in place of creams, milks and cheeses in recipes. Try Non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
  • Choose flavor over fat! Fresh herbs, spices and citrus fruits can add lots of flavor without all the extra calories. Basil, cloves, cranberries, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme and turmeric are all spices that pair well with poultry.
  • Choose leaner sources of meat. White meat is leaner than dark meat. Remove the skin from poultry, trim fat before eating and cook the meats on a rack to allow the fat to drip off. Try pork tenderloin, sirloin or flank steaks for a leaner option.
  • Allow gravies, soups or stews to cool by placing in the refrigerator. Once cooled, the fat will be hardened at the top. Skim off all of the fat at the top, then reheat and serve.
  • Skip cooking the stuffing inside of a turkey or adding turkey gibbets. Try adding vegetables such as onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and garlic and dried fruits to add flavor and color.
  • When making stuffing, use less bread and add more onions, garlic, celery and veggies. Add apples or other fruits to moisten. Try low sodium vegetable broth or applesauce.
  • Choose your favorite dessert — just make sure it is a small portion.

It’s not just about the food. Try these tips:

  • Mingle at gatherings. Don’t stand or sit near where the food is being served. It is more tempting to grab and overeat when the food is right in front of you. Socializing can distract you from snacking.
  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals will make you feel hungrier when you arrive at your holiday gathering. This may result in overeating. Filling up on a healthy breakfast or lunch with adequate protein and lots of fiber, can help prevent overeating later in the day.
  • Lastly, stay active! Spend less time sitting and more time moving. Participate in fun games that makes your body move, such as charades, scavenger hunts or lawn games like croquet. Have a dance party or go for a walk after a holiday meal.

Focusing on maintaining your weight versus weight loss can alleviate added stress. Remember you can be healthy and enjoy all of the wonderful gatherings and traditions that the holiday season brings. With a few small changes, you can stress less and feel good this holiday season.

Heather Eads, RD, LDN, is a clinical dietitian at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and can be reached at or 252-948-4937.