Managing Your Heart Health During the Holidays

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Learn what else you can do during the holidays to keep yourself healthy. Beyond Mealtime: Heart Health and the Holidays


Strategies for Healthy Eating During the HolidaysThe holiday season is upon us and with the anticipation and excitement also comes additional pressure and stress, especially for individuals who are striving to manage their heart health.


Dr. Heather Johnson of the UW Health Preventive Cardiology Clinic says, "Stress and holiday weight gain are the most common issues within our clinic this time of year, especially for patients who have recently lost weight or who are managing heart issues." She adds, "But there are many strategies you can put in place for yourself or loved ones who have this added concern."




Dr. Johnson explains, "Holiday celebrations often revolve around a big meal, but you can make this a healthy celebration too by following a few simple tips."


Many people tend to "save up" for the big meal by not eating earlier in the day, but Johnson says it's important to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch and snack wisely so you don't overeat later.


Other tips to consider include:

  • Choose small meals and snacks earlier in the day that are higher in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and include a protein. Meals/snacks that have a good source of fiber and protein will keep you feeling full. Food combinations like vegetables with hummus, low-fat string cheese with whole grain crackers; and almonds with an apple are all great choices.
  • During the main meal, limit portion sizes by taking a smaller portion than you would normally eat. Choosing a salad plate over a dinner plate may help. This actually makes it less likely to overeat on second helpings.
  • Control calories by filling half your plate first with vegetables. Then, add other foods in appropriate portion sizes
  • Eat at a slower pace. Put your fork down between bites and take time to enjoy dinner table conversation.
  • If you are offered leftovers, don't feel obligated to take them, especially if they don't match your dietary needs or goals.
  • As always, be mindful of hidden calories in beverages. Drink alcohol in moderation and avoid soda, juices and punches as these calories can add up quickly.

If you are doing the cooking or hosting, you can also promote heart health when you modify recipes with heart-healthy substitutions. Johnson recommends the following:

  • Substitute half the total white flour with an equal amount of whole wheat. You can experiment with using more whole wheat flour, but the product will be more dense. Try adding 1-2 Tbsp more liquid.
  • Use fruit puree (such as applesauce or pear) to cut down fat and sugar. Try substituting 1 cup puree for ¼ cup of the butter or oil in your recipe; taking the sugar down by 1 or 2 Tbsp (depending on the sweetness of the puree); and reducing liquid by ¼ cup.
  • Swap solid fat with liquid fat. If a recipe calls for ¼ cup butter, use ¼ cup canola oil instead.
  • Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Use herbs (fresh or dried) and spices for seasoning instead of adding salt and sugar to foods.

Even when you are just bringing a dish to pass, you can ensure healthier options are available by bringing selections like a veggie platter with hummus and whole wheat pita. Be sure to avoid dips, heavy sauces and greasy foods.


Healthy Eating On the Go


Johnson also says to plan ahead with healthy snacks during long days of errands and traveling. She says, "The key is to have healthy portable snacks such apples and almonds to help keep you going. Otherwise you may be more likely to fall back on a quick greasy meal or sugary snack."


This will also help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.


Give Yourself a Do-Over


Most importantly, Johnson says to make sure you give yourself "do-overs" at any point during the holiday season. Know that if you overeat, you can start over at the next meal - you don't have to wait until January! She says, "Recognize that you've enjoyed yourself, and then recommit to healthy decisions right away – it will make a big difference in your long-term success."