Choose Healthy Foods and Stay Active This Holiday Season

Why It Matters:
  • Holiday celebrations tend to be filled with food and drink, so planning ahead helps in making healthy choices.
  • Healthy eating and staying active can boost your immune system and fight illnesses.
  • Limiting alcohol and sugary beverages can reduce your calorie intake.

American Heart Association tkc.profilePicture Written by: American Heart Association | Transamerica
Oct. 20, 2020

5 Min readClock Icon

The holiday season is a time for joy with family and friends, often involving food and drink. With so many celebrations between Halloween and New Year’s Day, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

But simple strategies can help you stay focused on nutritious eating, physical activity, and other healthy steps. Because COVID-19 is part of the equation this year, health and safety practices of all sorts are essential. Start by coming up with a holiday game plan.

Cut calories, choose nutrient-rich foods

Healthy holiday food choices can contribute to heart health and keep calories under control. Put fruits, vegetables, and lean protein on your plate.

“Healthy eating also may improve your immune system and aid in battling the coronavirus as well as the flu,” said Claudia Gonzalez, MS, RDN, a Miami-based dietitian and author.

“Heart-healthy and immune system-boosting foods include red bell pepper, garlic, broccoli, ginger, almonds, papaya, and kiwi,” Gonzalez noted. Experiment with spinach in salads instead of lettuce. Use garlic as a condiment, perhaps combining it with olive oil to season whole-grain French bread.

To reduce salt, rely on basil, cilantro and other green leafy herbs for flavoring. “There are so many condiments that we can use instead of salt,” Gonzalez said.

Holiday desserts can tempt even the most devoted healthy eater. For those who typically don’t indulge in sweets, it won’t hurt to enjoy a slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie or an occasional Christmas cookie. “But if you consume high-calorie desserts regularly, consider adopting a healthier year-round eating plan,” Gonzalez suggested. Strive to eat the nutrient-dense foods our bodies need.

Whether attending a potluck dinner or another type of holiday gathering, offer to bring a dish. That way you can prepare a festive, healthy item to share. “Many people are cooking at home more because of COVID-19 and are growing accustomed to seeking out healthy foods. This is a positive trend that will help during the holidays,” Gonzalez said.

Listen to your body

Consider making portion control and slower eating part of the plan so you don’t end a holiday evening feeling bloated and guilty. Start a meal by eating lower-calorie options such as a salad or broth-based soup.

“Listen to your body,” Gonzalez said. Take your time, and your brain will get the message you are satisfying your hunger. When the entrée arrives, you may not eat as much.

Savoring and enjoying food — the smell, taste, and texture — and stopping eating when you’re no longer hungry are part of mindful eating. The approach emphasizes an awareness about food; it’s a healthy eating strategy for any time of year.

‘Tis the season to stay active

A study of U.S. adults showed that inadequate levels of aerobic physical activity were associated with an estimated 11% of aggregate health care costs.1 Physical activity is key to good overall health. Like certain nutritious foods, physical activity can contribute to a healthy immune system.2

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply get outside and go for a walk. Find an exercise video and start moving. Or, if you’re already active, keep on track with your regular exercise routine.

For heart health, adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. It’s best to spread the activity throughout the week.3

Limit alcohol and stay hydrated

Alcoholic beverages tend to flow more frequently during the holidays. Remember alcohol contains calories, can contain added sugars, and can increase appetite, all of which may sabotage a healthy eating plan. Moderation is key. Moderate alcohol consumption is an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, according to the American Heart Association.4

At holiday gatherings, consider having sparkling water or other non-alcoholic, non-sugar-sweetened drinks some of the time. Also, be aware certain non-alcoholic drinks such as sodas and fruit drinks include added sugars.

Drinking a sufficient amount of water is crucial for our bodies and a healthy lifestyle, Gonzalez noted. Water should be consumed throughout the day. Symptoms of dehydration may include a dry mouth, extreme thirst, fatigue, or dizziness.5

Don’t confuse dehydration with hunger, Gonzalez warned. Instead of food, a glass of water may be what’s needed.

Keep it safe

Large holiday parties may be less common this year because of pandemic precautions. In many places, smaller, more intimate — and possibly less expensive — social gatherings are the norm. When getting together with family or close friends, you may already know if someone has been ill or has been tested for COVID-19. But if not, consider asking.

Older adults and people who have medical conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to have a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.6

To keep everyone safe, maintain a distance of at least six feet from people who don’t live in the same household. Wear a mask covering the nose and mouth in public settings, when around people from other households, and when physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or longer, especially before eating or preparing food.6

“Home food safety is always important,” Gonzalez added. In addition to washing hands and ensuring an overall clean cooking environment, she urges cooks to use different cutting boards for meats and vegetables and to defrost poultry properly.

With a few precautions and a little planning, this holiday season can be a safe and healthy one.

Things to Consider:

  • Use immune system-boosting foods such as red bell pepper, broccoli, and garlic to prepare holiday dishes.
  • Stay active during the holidays by going on walks, moving with the help of exercise videos, or working out in your usual fashion.
  • Wash your hands and maintain physical distancing to avoid the spread of the flu and COVID-19.

This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment .

Transamerica Resources, Inc. is an Aegon company and is affiliated with various companies which include, but are not limited to, insurance companies and broker dealers. Transamerica Resources, Inc. does not offer insurance products or securities. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical or financial advice or guidance. Please consult your personal independent professionals for answers to your specific questions.

1 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020, American Heart Association, January 2020

2 “How to Boost Your Immune System,” Harvard Health, April 2020

3 “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids,” American Heart Association, April 2018

4 “Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?” American Heart Association, December 2019

5 “Dehydration,” Mayo Clinic, September 2019.

6 “How to Protect Yourself and Others,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2020


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