The holidays are here, and so are tasty treats and holiday staples. Whether it's childhood favorites, or shared family recipes, holiday foods tend to be sweeter and richer than we’re used to. While these foods are traditionally less healthy, they do not have to be off limits. We spoke with Melody Steeples, MPH, RD, a registered dietician with Woodland Clinic, about her recommendations for enjoying this time of year without overindulging.
Q: What are some tips to consider when enjoying holiday treats?
The best way to enjoy holiday treats is to eat them slowly and mindfully. Start with a small serving and really work on tasting each bite. Focus on what you love about what you're eating. Take a moment to fully appreciate what you enjoy about it: the texture, the spices and flavors, the sweetness or savoriness. If you remain genuinely hungry 20 or more minutes after finishing what you've eaten, go ahead and have a little more.
Q: Are all holiday foods created equal? Are some worse than others?
In my opinion, the only "bad" holiday foods are over-processed foods and desserts that replace real, homemade foods. Holiday meals should be balanced just like any other meal. Make sure your plate includes vegetables, fruit, protein, and a starch such as sweet potato, bread or stuffing.
Q: Can you "balance-out" holiday eating with physical activity?
I think of physical activity and eating as different but equally necessary habits to support good health. It is easy to eat 400-500 extra calories (or more) a day during the holidays, and it’s challenging to burn that number of calories. Instead of trying to "earn" your holiday eating with exercise, pay attention to your physical hunger. Don't overeat, and enjoy every bite you take. By maintaining your typical exercise routine, you'll likely feel better throughout the day. That said, it's not a bad idea to have a nice walk after your meals. Walking is much better for maintaining healthy blood sugars than taking a nap.
Q: Any other nutrition tips for holiday gatherings?
Research shows that the more options available at a meal, the more people tend to eat. One strategy for small gatherings is limiting the number of options to six or less. This will also prevent having an excess of leftovers. For larger gatherings, let guests know they don't have to bring a food contribution in order to be welcome. Alternatively, you might ask a guest to bring music, games, something to entertain the kids, or a table decoration for example. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season!