By KENNAE HUNTER
As the sun sets sooner and days are more chilly, people start thinking more about the holiday season. The holidays mean more feasting, more time to relax, and more time to be lazy.
Is it possible to be health conscious in the midst of so much unhealthy temptation? Indeed it is.
Reggie Hunter, hostess of her family’s holiday dinners, said the traditions that she follows are not always the healthiest choices, but what her guests prefer.
“When I cook I use everything you are probably not supposed to,” Hunter said. “I fry everything using grease and I cook things with butter, salt and cheese. Dinner has a lot of starch and bread too with plenty of desserts. I like to tease how everyone will gain about five pounds by the end of it all.”
Too much of the ingredients with high sodium and fats can trigger complications for someone who already has known health conditions. Dieticians acknowledged that it is fine to indulge into holiday favorites, but there are ways to incorporate health into the equation as well.
“I don’t call foods good foods and bad foods,” Outpatient Nutrition Services Dietician Holly Samples, R.D., L.D. said. “I talk to my patients about foods that are higher in fat or higher in sugar and don’t have as many nutrients as your body can benefit from, however there is still a place for those higher sugar, higher fat foods like celebration when you have those foods every now and then.”
For potlucks, a tossed salad or fruit tray can be added to suggest healthier options for the family. Also, even if grandma’s famous pie is calling out to be eaten, it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy it as one day would not affect one’s diet if they have been health conscious all year.
There are foods that are already associated with the holidays that can be good for our health.
“While thinking about what you can add to the table, there are foods that we eat that are good for us like sweet potatoes, collard greens, cranberries,” said Marisa Moore, MBA. RDN. LD., Culinary and Integrative Dietitian.
“Unless you have a specific condition that needs to limit a certain food or food group, I wouldn’t advise eliminating the food for the general population,” Samples said. “Eliminating food groups or food usually just increases the desire for it. Include all foods in the holidays and throughout the year, but maybe foods that are higher in sugar or higher in fat, limit those to less often and smaller portions.”
“The general public doesn’t need to be on a specific diet unless it’s directly impacting your health,” Samples said. “These diets like Keto or Atkins or whatever they may be to eliminate certain food groups can compromise your health because you are also eliminating a lot of nutrients that come from those foods. For many people it increases your desire for those foods and makes you more likely to binge on those foods later on.”
There are health conscious actions one can take to enjoy their holiday traditions while still being aware of their bodies. It is suggested to stop eating when the full feeling sets in although we often tend to try to finish our plates. Eating smaller portions gives the satisfaction of taste without overindulging.
“Finding other ways to celebrate besides centering around food like going on a family walk or a family football game helps stay healthy because it gets you away from the table,” Samples said. “It takes one person to recognize that this is something that could be good for all of us, but you don’t want to make your agenda someone else’s agenda. You can show some examples that have worked for you over the past months without forcing it.”
Even though it is colder, bundling up and going outside for some fresh air is helpful. The same calories and fat are being burned even if there is less sweating involved. Families can tell stories and play games to enjoy each other’s company while still being active.
“Keep in mind that one meal or one day or even one month or season of eating doesn’t make or break your health,” Samples said. “If there were all these yummy foods in the office or with our families, it is okay to enjoy some of that. It is a time where we can develop unhealthy habits, but it is okay to enjoy a meal that you may only get during this time of year.”
“I think the holidays are just a really good time, and there’s a lot of celebrations and traditions around food. We’re human beings not robots so we should enjoy those times and those memories, but we also don’t want to sacrifice our health.”
Ultimately, people are encouraged to enjoy the holidays while being self aware of what is relevant to their health.