Seek New, Healthy Dishes To Add To Old Favorites At The Holiday Table

AHA Blogger

From the American Heart Association


27605_CMBPP1118 - AHA Heart Healthy_comm_643px.jpg


Holiday foods and healthy eating don’t always go hand in hand. But even amid the festivities, it’s possible to stick to a nutritious path.


“You want to try to eat as healthfully as you can during the season. It’s just not a time to derail the train from the track,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., registered dietitian, and distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University.


At food-filled Thanksgiving gatherings, start the holidays the right way by eating naturally healthy items and finding new ways to prepare old family favorites. Such simple strategies can contribute to a healthy diet during the holidays throughout the year and help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke associated with fatty, salty, and sugary dishes.


Preventing heart disease can also contribute to your long-term financial health. Direct medical costs related to cardiovascular disease are more than $300 billion per year overall, larger than any other disease. That doesn’t include indirect costs from missed days at work or the inability to oversee chores at home because of illness.


Something old, something new


Certain traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as roasted turkey breast, are lean and low in calories. Sweet potatoes are nutrient dense, and, depending on how they are prepared, can be a healthy part of your holiday meal.


“With almost any food preparation, you can cut fat, sugar, and salt by about a third without anyone noticing,” said Kris-Etherton. “If a dish doesn’t seem flavorful enough with less salt, find a substitute spice.”


Keep it simple when reworking a standard holiday recipe. For example, prepare green beans with olive oil, herbs, and a few roasted almonds. If your family’s favorite stuffing is made with cornbread and sausage, consider reducing the amount of sausage or simply substituting mushrooms or nuts for the meat.


The American Heart Association provides tips for healthier holiday cooking and recipes for main courses and healthier desserts.


Snacking suggestions


Snacks and appetizers are plentiful at holiday parties. Choose raw vegetables rather than fried foods at the holiday buffet, and select salsa for dipping.


“You don’t have to totally avoid the chips and the savory snacks, but choose something lower in calories,” said Kris-Etherton. “Popcorn is a crunchy alternative that’s enjoying a resurgence in snacking popularity, but watch the salt,” she adds.


Other tactics for limiting your food intake at this season’s celebrations: Use a small plate so you don’t overload. Eat some fruit or vegetables before a party to avoid arriving hungry. Drink water, coffee, tea, or other non-calorie beverages throughout the gathering to keep you full.


“Alcohol consumption is all right in moderation, but choose drinks wisely. A glass of wine contains about 100 calories, while a cup of eggnog is three times that amount at 343 calories — and that’s without any added alcohol,” Kris-Etherton warns.


Portion control and shifting the focus


Avoid heaping helpings and practice portion control during the entire meal, including with dessert and when adding sauces and toppings.


Carve out time to exercise when you are off work or school. Physical activity during the holiday season can help balance extra eating by burning calories.


Finally, remember that even though an array of wonderful food may be at your fingertips, what matters most this season is spending time with family and friends.




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 healthcare professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.