Here’s how to eat healthy for the holiday — and enjoy some flavor, too

Why It Matters:
  • The holidays can be a tough season for people trying to eat healthy, but you shouldn’t put off good habits.  
  • With a little creativity, you can still enjoy the flavors of the holiday without feeling guilty. 
  • A little bit of preparation can let you enjoy all the food-focused gatherings without derailing progress toward your health goals.

American Heart Association tkc.profilePicture Written by: American Heart Association | Transamerica
Nov. 22, 2019

5 Min readClock Icon

Staying healthy during the year-end holidays doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the parties and celebrations. Indulging a little won’t hurt – if you plan ahead for meals that are healthy, too.

The key is to be prepared for lots of parties and a variety of foods that may not be the healthiest choices.

“Around the holiday season, we go from work, to the parties after work, to home. It just doesn’t stop. And that, for a lot of us, presents lots of roadblocks,” said Annessa Chumbley, a registered dietitian and American Heart Association volunteer.

To avoid the average holiday weight gain of up to three pounds, people need to be mindful of what they’re consuming.

“I like to encourage people to stay true to their goals, but to also live in the moment,” said Chumbley. "What we don't want to do is the destructive mindset of, ‘It's the holidays, so I'm not going to abide by anything’.”1

Thinking ahead can keep you out of a food fog later on.

“Do a little bit of mental preparation,” she suggested. “Know what flavors you like best, so that way you can enjoy the things that you want to enjoy in a small amount, then move on and not feel guilty.”

For example, if you love pumpkin pie, there’s nothing wrong with having a slice. But she cautions against eating it all season long. Instead, go for healthier options with the same pumpkin flavor — say, a pumpkin spice smoothie or some homemade pumpkin pie granola.

“You can spoon canned pumpkin into that delicious vanilla Greek yogurt and then put some pumpkin pie seasoning into it and some toasted pecans, and those are items that are great for your heart,” she said. “Save that special slice of pumpkin pie for the one day of Thanksgiving.”

Whatever the event, you can still stay healthy while having fun. To slim down other seasonal favorites, follow these helpful tips2:

  • Like eggnog? Fill your glass with 1/2 to 3 parts low-fat or skim milk and 1-part eggnog to get that noggy flavor, but with fewer calories.
  • If cocoa is your drink of choice, use “low-fat or fat-free” hot chocolate mixes with low-fat or nonfat milk or hot water.
  • Have your cocktails by having a glass of water or sparkling water between each alcoholic drink. This will leave less time or room to overindulge.
  • What part of the bird do you like best? If you reach for the lighter pieces of meat, they have fewer calories than the darker ones. And, taking off the skin also reduces fat and calories.
  • You can still complement your meal with some dressing. But, make sure to limit it to about ¼ cup or 1 spoonful.
  • Want your cake (or pie) and eat it too? Use the buddy system. Split your dessert with someone or try bite-sized or half portions.
  • Compare the labels of your holiday ingredients. Choose items with lower sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. And use low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk or heavy cream.

Here are some tips for healthy serving sizes for your Thanksgiving dinner.

Chumbley has a long list of swaps to recommend: Replace salt with herbs and spices. Replace butter with a healthier vegetable oil (she prefers avocado or algae oil) or substitute equal parts unsweetened applesauce when baking. When baking, use half wheat and half white flour to work in more healthy whole grains.

You can try a couple of these AHA holiday favorites to make your holiday table healthier:

Also, don’t forget to keep moving all season. Activity is your secret holiday weapon; it can help make up for eating more than usual” and reduce stress. Perhaps most important, Chumbley said, is to incorporate healthy habits year-round.

“The problem isn’t Thanksgiving day or Christmas day,” she said. “If we’re getting Thanksgiving-full 365 days a year, that's what the issue is.”

Things to Consider:

  • Guilt and food are a bad combination. 
  • Go ahead and enjoy your favorites, in moderation.
  • Make health a year-round focus. 

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. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.



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