Eat and Be Well This Holiday Season

By Rachel Berman, RD, dietitian in NYC and head of content at Verywell.com

Rachel-Berman-large_2Between cocktail parties, family gatherings, and holiday bake-offs, it can be really tough to eat well this time of year. I wouldn’t be honest if I said that I avoid my co-workers’ delicious cookies and only stick to seltzer with lime at my company’s holiday party. Hey, I may be a dietitian but I’m human, too!

While the holidays are a time of indulgence, it’s important not to throw all hope of healthy eating out of the window. On average, we gain 1-2 pounds over this season. I know, it doesn’t really sound like much. The problem is that we may not lose that weight in the New Year so year after year, the pounds can creep up. And because being overweight and weight gain as an adult are factors that may raise your risk for breast cancer after menopause, keeping your eye on the healthy prize now can have major benefits later.

Of course, chowing down on nutrient-rich foods to maintain a healthy weight is important all year-round. However, here are my top tips to get through this more challenging holiday season.

Plan for balance

As the saying goes, failing to plan is a plan to fail. And this couldn’t ring more true when it comes to eating healthy. Take a look at your calendar so you can plan ahead for holiday gatherings where you may have less control over the food served. The rest of the time, plan to make more nutritious choices so that you can have a balance.

Remember, there is no such thing as a magic bullet. There is not one proven diet or nutrient that will reduce your risk for cancer or keep your weight in check. That being said, a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish provides healthful nutrients that also keep you satisfied and ready to tackle whatever the holidays may throw your way.

When it comes to planning any nutrient-dense meal, try balancing your plate with:

  • Fiber, the indigestible part of carbohydrate is found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Refined white flours are stripped of fiber and beneficial nutrients so when you do have the choice, go whole grain for foods like breads, pasta, and cereal. Fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, which protect our body’s cells from damage.
  • Protein, mostly from fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy.
  • Fat, mostly from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

Because everyone is different, I recommend you always speak with your personal health care provider to understand the diet and plan that is right for you.

Be mindful at events

Buffets or parties may leave your plate piled high with tons of decadent foods, not necessarily nutrients. If this sounds familiar, you may also benefit from my personal mantra this time of year: ‘Stop and think before you eat and drink!’ Also, keep the below tips at top of mind.

  • Fill up on fewer calories with items like crudité and fruit.
  • Scope out the room to see all your food options before making any decisions.
  • Bring your own dish so that you’re guaranteed to have a healthful choice. Try a recipe courtesy of Savor Health like Moroccan Chicken or Cocoa Almond Butter Dip.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women, two per day for men. One drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Afterwards, you can stick to those aforementioned seltzers with lime to keep your hands busy.

Focus on the positive

Instead of only thinking about what to limit from your diet this holiday season, focus on the foods you can add. There are plenty of healthful and ubiquitous foods that are popular this time of year. The holidays are not all about candies, pies, and cookies.

Apples are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and anti-inflammatory nutrient called quercetin, which may protect cells against certain types of cancer. Apples basically give you no excuse not to get at least one serving of fruit in per day.

How to eat ‘em? Aside from biting right in, try a baked apple dessert like this made with spelt flour.

Brussels sprouts belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables along with broccoli and kale. These vegetables are not only excellent sources of fiber but also contain compounds called glucosinolates, breaking down to chemicals that have been studied to reduce cancer risk in animals.

How to eat ‘em? Roast or slice up into salads or slaws with dried cranberries, apples, almonds, and mix with my favorite salad dressing: 1 part Dijon mustard, 1 part olive oil, 2 parts balsamic vinegar.

Sweet potatoes contain the antioxidant beta-carotene which lends its deep orange color. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, which may protect against cancer.

How to eat ‘em? Simply baked or make sweet potato fries by slicing the potato into wedges lengthwise, brushing with olive oil and spices, and baking at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.

Including these cancer fighting, antioxidant, and fiber-rich foods makes less room for treats and helps keep your belly both happy and healthy.  Wishing you all a healthy holiday season!