Enjoying a healthy holiday

Healthy holiday 2

This post was written by Hannah Bercot, RDN, CD, community outreach dietitian, Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen.

The holidays are a time for coming together and enjoying the company of loved ones. To this day, countless traditions are centered around a dinner table with food being a central theme. Over the years, we have accepted the slight weight gain that comes with the holiday season, allowing ourselves the opportunity to overindulge on delicious foods and sweet treats. This temporary weight gain and suddenly rich, overindulgent diet is part of an unhealthy yo-yo pattern that could lead to weight gain, chronic inflammation and damage to our arteries.

Over the decades, data has shown an increased risk of vascular events such as heart attack and stroke during the holiday season. Factors contributing to this include cooler temperatures and respiratory illness which increase the stress to our bodies and metabolism.

Portion Control

Much of the western world tends to suffer from “portion distortion”, which refers to the growing portion sizes that people call 'normal'. During the holidays we justify overeating because, “well, it’s the holidays.” There’s a sense of urgency to consume as much traditional holiday food as possible because of the notion that we may not have them again until next year. However, if we’re being honest, there are usually leftovers to bring home and we’re fortunate enough to have the ease and accessibility of many of these foods throughout the year. A few things to remember when it comes to leftovers:

  • Stay in control
  • Avoid treating every day like a second round of holiday gatherings
  • Avoid keeping sweet treats and candy in the house or workplace
  • Don’t arrive at a gathering hungry
  • Bring a nutritious dish with you 
Finding nutrition in holiday favorites

Traditional holiday dishes and desserts aren’t known for their abundance of nutritional benefits, but there are many ways to boost the nutritional value of these foods to protect our bodies. While you should always practice mindfulness and portion control, utilizing the right ingredients may let you have your cake and eat it too. 

Holiday dishes tend to be filled with salt, saturated fats, refined sugars and heavily processed ingredients. When seeking out holiday recipes consider utilizing whole ingredients. When we refine foods and separate the components of them we lose many of the nutrients that are naturally occurring. Using whole ingredients like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in place of heavily processed, refined or separated ingredients provides an opportunity to impart some lifesaving compounds into our diets. Antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals and nitric oxide are all essential to a healthy diet. Let’s examine them further: 

  • Antioxidants – chemical compounds that reduce oxidative stress. Simply put, they can protect our body tissues and cells against havoc reeking free radicals, preventing cancer-causing damage and deformation.
  • Vitamin C – an antioxidant found abundantly in the plant kingdom. It’s available in many whole plant foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Fiber – the complex carbohydrate that makes up the cell wall of all plants. Dietary fiber can’t be digested or absorbed in our intestines, but it does act as roughage and as a nutrient source to many beneficial bacteria in our guts.
  • Phytochemicals – compounds found abundantly in plant foods. They are pigments, like chlorophyll and beta-carotene, that have been shown to protect and even help to reverse many types of chronic disease. Many of these compounds are destroyed or separated out during processing.
  • Nitric oxide – a compound that has repeatedly shown to protect our arteries and to even repair existing damage.

Choosing ingredients and holiday sides that will provide these compounds into our holiday diets can help to protect us from the damaging effects of our annual yo-yo patterns. 

Finally, remember to relax and enjoy yourself this holiday season. Be mindful of the foods you are choosing to fuel your body and don’t overindulge. Take a moment to truly appreciate the time you can share with your family and friends. Have a very healthy and happy holiday season!

A Parkview resource

Parkview Health has gifted space to the community to support healthy change. The Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen is a place where the community can find free, hands-on cooking classes to help navigate ingredients while learning to cook in a fun and healthy way! Classes are free and only require online registration to hold a seat. Holiday Desserts to Share & Care will be a class offered in December, focusing on whole, plant-based foods and ingredients that will help to satisfy our sweet tooth during the holidays.

Visit our schedule of Classes and Events to find the next cooking class in the Learning Kitchen.

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