The holidays are coming and you know what that means: family gatherings, office parties, gifts, and the most stressful time of the year for many. Shopping, feasting and visiting take their toll. To make this holiday season your healthiest yet, prepare your New Year's resolutions now. Implement them now. Remember how you felt on January 2 last year. It doesn't have to happen again. You can come through the next weeks feeling invigorated, in control and looking forward to the year ahead.
What you eat has a major impact on how you feel, especially at this time of year, because food is such a major part of the holidays. It's not usually the meals that do you in. It's the snacks, sweets, appetizers, eggnogs and other alcoholic beverages. One-third of the food consumed in the U.S. is nutrient-poor junk food, mostly eaten as snacks. The math is pretty simple. If one-third of your calories come from foods that are devoid of nutrients, either you're going to become malnourished or you're going to gain a lot of weight, or both.
Eating healthier during the holidays calls for some steps that may surprise you:
(1) Don't go hungry--if you're eating out, going shopping or going to a party. Hunger is a slippery slope on which it's really hard to balance.
The scene is pretty familiar: you're famished and you're waiting for a meal at a restaurant, you’re at a party or shopping for food. What happens? You eat a basket of rolls, gobble up the hors d'ouvres, grab whatever fast food is handy or buy more food at the market than you really need. Plan your day so you eat before you shop and stow a healthy snack in your bag. We provide a great list of 100 Calorie Diet Saver snacks in our book The Fat Resistance Diet. When eating out, have a healthy snack before you leave home.
(2) Stock up with nutritious food.
Deprivation does not work. The key to healthy eating is an ample and ready supply of the right foods. The right foods contain nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrients like essential fatty acids (EFAs), carotenoids and bioflavinoids, which have gotten so much attention in the nutrition research literature. Don't buy foods made with white flour, added sugars (this includes corn syrup), artificial sweeteners or added fats (especially bad are the hydrogenated vegetable oils-they increase the risk of heart attacks). Beware of gourmet muffins no matter how "healthy" they look; they're usually loaded with extra fat. Healthy snacks include seasonal fruits like apples and pears, vegetables like carrots or radishes or broccoli florets, a handful of almonds or walnuts or sunflower seeds, some plain low-fat yogurt with fruit or apple sauce mixed in for flavor.
(3) Keep water handy at all times, especially when you're shopping.
It prevents dehydration, a problem made worse by coffee. Drinking water can help stave off cravings if they grab you at the wrong moment. A dash of fruit juice turns plain seltzer into a refreshing spritzer.
(4) Eat consciously.
Respect your food. Chew it slowly, savoring its flavor, texture and aroma. You'll enjoy it more-and, astonishingly, you'll wind up eating less.
Prepare Healthy Party Foods.
They don't have to derail your plans to make this the healthiest holiday season ever. All the food you serve, including delicious party food, can be healthy, if you understand the answer to the following question: What creates appetizing snacks, desserts or hors d'oevres? It's not the calories. It's rich color; a distinctive texture--either crunchy or creamy--and a taste that quickens the senses by being sweet, salty or spicy. There's a cornucopia of nutritious foods that together create a dazzling buffet that feasts the eyes and the palate. The beauty of these foods is that they don't require added sugar, butter, or cream to please. Some require a bit of preparation, others don't. Some may need salt, but you can usually decrease the need for salt by using spices. These natural treats add nourishment to your parties and actually supplement the nutrients you receive from the food you eat every day. They are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like carotenoids and bioflavinoids, those anti-oxidants found in plants that make vegetables and fruits the healthiest foods you can add to your diet.
Some healthy choices might include shrimp with salsa; smoked salmon or pickled herring with seven-grain toast topped with fresh dill; a white bean salad with navy or Tuscan beans, chopped red onion, chopped walnuts, and a light dressing of tarragon vinegar and walnut oil; or a pasta salad with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and basil. Flavor these with fresh herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Spreads made from tofu, beans or chick peas without added fat are now available. If their taste is bland, add a touch of curry, cayenne, garlic or soy sauce. Serve these with crudites, baked tortilla chips or triangles of fresh pita bread. Attractive little bowls of almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds adorn your table and, whether roasted or raw, add minerals like zinc and magnesium to your feast. Raisins and dates add sweetness. Most commercial trail mixes or dried fruit mixtures are loaded with added sugar, so it's better to create your own.
If you're entertaining kids, you can also try air-popped popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese, carrot sticks with almond butter, frozen banana pops, homemade fruit juice ice pops, or granola chews made with rolled oats, nut butter, raisins, and apple juice concentrate.
Healthy beverages can complement your healthy buffet. Warm apple cider brewed with cinnamon sticks is a cold-weather favorite.