How to make healthy eating choices during the holiday season

-Candice Smith, contributing writer

‘Tis the season for pumpkin pie, fudge, gingerbread, Hershey’s kisses, sugar cookies in the shape of Rudolph and an extra notch or two added to the ole belt buckle! From Halloween through the New Years, these two months are packed with holiday parties, family gatherings, Christmas shopping and no school, which means more time spent getting ready for the holidays and less time spent maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the holidays. With a smorgasbord of temptations around every corner during the holiday season, sometimes it’s easier to delve into all the deliciousness and say, “There’s always a New Year’s resolution,” instead of eating in moderation.

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It’s not uncommon for people to gain five to 10 pounds during the holiday season. That may not seem like a lot but it’s usually five to 10 pounds of unhealthy fats, calories, and sugar. There are many different ways to prevent adding the extra weight. Instead of waiting to overindulge on a big holiday feast later in the evening, it’s better to eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Eating several smaller meals throughout the day increases a person’s metabolism and helps to burn more calories; therefore people will be less likely to overeat at a gathering. Also, choose heavier foods that are more filling instead of empty calorie foods. Examples are choosing fruits and vegetables over crackers, rice cakes, or popcorn. Another tip: have a good workout prior to eating a holiday feast. The proteins will help repair damaged tissue during a heavy exercise and the carbs will help to replenish glycogen. Also, a body’s metabolism works more effectively when a person eats after a workout instead of prior to one.

It takes approximately 20 minutes for a person’s brain to realize he or she is actually full; therefore the slower a person eats, the less calories he or she will consume. Scientists have proven that when people eat foods, they tend to enjoy the first few bites MORE than they do the entire food item. Once a person consumes a few bites of their favorite pie, they should set the rest aside because they have already satisfied their brain’s “pleasure” senses. This way, they will receive more gratification and less calories. If a person is going to gain 10 pounds during the holidays, then they should gain 10 pounds of the good foods. Eating the good foods during the holidays can actually be an introduction to healthy eating year round. Listed are some of the healthy foods and their benefits: pumpkin, because it is an excellent source of beta-carotene and iron; cranberries, as they protect against cancer and heart disease; turkey, which a great source of protein, B-vitamins, selenium and zinc and the dark meat contains 10 percent more iron than the white meat; sweet potatoes, which provide a great amount of beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and iron; and chestnuts, which provide healthy doses of fiber, vitamin C and folic acid.

If someone is concerned about the unhealthy foods that will be served at a party, they can offer to bring a vegetable platter with low-fat dip or a colorful platter of fruits. Certain recipe modifications can also be made to dishes such as substituting healthy oils for unhealthy oils, dark chocolates (70 perecent) for milk chocolates, and even applesauce for certain oils. Don’t forget that alcoholic beverages can have a lot of calories, too. A margarita contains 270 calories in just 4 ounces while wine contains only 80 calories per 4 ounces. Drinking more non-alcoholic drinks allows one to be able to enjoy more of the holiday foods. Also, do not hang around the tables of food, appetizers, and desserts. This who socialize more will be less likely to munch on empty calories.

Suzanne McDonough, associate professor of the MC kinesiology department, is very passionate about a person’s psychological and physical well-being and even offers free health assessments to students and community members. McDonough has been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the holidays, even when everyone else around might not show the same amount of concern for health and well-being.

“Personally, I maintain control through portion size,” said McDonough. “I do not deny myself eating the foods that I enjoy. I will eat a small slice of dessert instead of a full portion. For others, I suggest eating prior to the gathering so you aren’t as hungry upon arrival.”

McDonough also suggests avoiding standing around the tables that have holiday treats. “I always find someone I don’t know and get involved in a conversation with them,” she said. “This helps to reduce temptation. I also fill the majority of my plate with vegetables and a small amount with meat.”

“Regarding healthy desserts, I enjoy taking low fat cool whip, low fat milk, low fat yogurt, mix it together and place in a graham cracker crust and freeze it. I will then sprinkle fresh fruits on top,” McDonough added. “Since many people are busy during the holidays, you can download an app on your cell phone called the 7 Minute Workout. It was created by the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine). The workout doesn’t require any weights or equipment and can be used anytime or anywhere. It is not meant to replace a regular workout routine but is only meant to be used during times when a full workout isn’t feasible.”

Instead of overindulging in calorie-rich, fattening, and sugary foods that will only lead to frustration after the holidays, one can indulge in the thought of enjoying the holidays even more by making healthier options.


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