10 Ways to Have a Healthier Holiday
By Melissa Diane Smith
© Copyright 2001 by Melissa Diane Smith
This article was first published in Let's Live magazine, December 2001.
Tired of stuffing yourself like a turkey and getting stressed out, sick or depressed during the holidays? Do you overindulge every year and find yourself paying the price with weight gain that's difficult to lose once the celebrating is over?
These refrains are exceedingly common, yet they don't have to be. Sure, the holiday season can be hectic, but there are simple ways to fortify yourself, navigate around common obstacles and modify your holiday routine so you can enjoy rich experiences and delicious food without bitter health consequences. Faithfully follow these steps and you'll spring into the new year feeling the best you have in years.
1. Curb the carbs.
From Thanksgiving to New Year's, the typical American overindulges in high-carbohydrate, high-glycemic foods that send blood sugar and insulin levels soaring. "Problem" carbohydrates include wheat-based and starchy side dishes (i.e., bread, rolls, stuffing, cornbread, potatoes, candied yams) and sugary sweets (i.e., candy, egg nog, fruitcake, cranberry sauce, fudge, strudel and holiday cookies and pastries).
To prevent unwanted health consequences, such as weight gain, weakened immunity and depression,1,2 eat "problem" carbohydrates sparingly: avoid these foods during most meals throughout the day, then, at special meals or parties, choose a small serving of a starchy side dish or a dessert but not both (or just have a bite of each). This is the best strategy for having your cake without having it go directly on your waistline.
2. Beef up and "veg" out.
Blood-sugar-balancing meals of lean animal protein and non-starchy vegetables or fruit reduce hunger and overeating: 3, 4 they're the best antidote for an overzealous appetite and carbohydrate cravings. Make this combination of foods a regular feature of all meals, but especially breakfast. When you start your day with an egg and veggie omelet instead of cereal, you will eat less calories, feel better and be far less likely to have a snack attack in between meals.
3. Go Fish.
Even though turkey, prime rib and other meats often take center stage at holiday meals, try to eat fish at least one to three times a week. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, trout and tuna, are rich in omega-3 fats that protect against insulin resistance, overweight, high blood pressure, and inflammation, not to mention the risk of sudden death from heart attack.5, 6, 7 Fishy meals, therefore, are great preventive measures for the rich food, lack of exercise and excess stress that are the norms this time of year.
4. Be nutty.
With shell-on nuts and nutcrackers in season, there's no better time to adopt the habit of including small but regular amounts of nuts in your diet. Nuts are rich in heart-healthy vitamin E and magnesium, and eating them frequently significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.8 Favor monounsaturated-rich nuts, such as macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and almonds, and carry them with you for convenient snack foods during holiday shopping.
5. Limit or lose the booze.
Though not technically a carbohydrate, alcohol should be thought of as a "problem" carbohydrate that can pack on the pounds. It disrupts efficient function of the liver, the detoxifying workhorse of the body, and most types of alcohol provide calories with little or no nutrients.
Alcohol, therefore, should be avoided or limited, just like starchy side dishes and sweets. If you want to drink occasionally at holiday parties, opt for antioxidant-rich wine, drink moderately, and keep the carbohydrate content of your diet extra low on the day you're drinking.
6. Take your vitamins.
No matter how busy your schedule, don't forget to take your daily nutritional supplements. If you don't usually use supplements, this might be a good time to start. Simply taking a multivitamin/multimineral can improve vitamin and mineral status to levels associated with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases.9
7. Nutritionally fortify yourself for extra defense.
In addition to your regular supplements, it's a good idea to have extra single supplements on hand to prepare for common obstacles of the season. For example, zinc gluconate lozenges (supplying 13 to 23 mg of zinc) are great to have on hand in case you or a family member starts to come down with a cold.10 Supplements of 600 mg of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) reduce the likelihood of developing flu symptoms,11 so NAC might be a good preventive when the flu is going around. If you indulge in dessert, try taking a little extra chromium picolinate and alpha-lipoic acid: both nutrients improve insulin efficiency and blood sugar metabolism.If you indulge in alcohol, consider taking the herb milk thistle. It has long been known to improve liver function and protect against alcohol-induced damage.
8. Keep things simple.
Lighten your holiday stress load by planning relatively simple meals and gift buying. Choose easy recipes for holiday meals so you spend more time socializing instead of slaving away in the kitchen. Try ditching long hours of holiday baking and give something that's less complicated -- for example, a festive arrangement of fruits and nuts. Instead of driving to store after store for gifts, call shops ahead of time to see it they have the items you want -- or shop by Internet.
9. Stay physically active.
During the holiday season, it's more important than ever to move your muscles. Physical activity improves feelings of well-being, reduces stress and anxiety, boosts immunity, improves blood sugar metabolism and reduces body fat. So, instead of watching TV, take a walk after dinner, play a touch football game with the family, have a snowball fight, or dance with your partner around the Christmas tree.
10. Get enough zzzz's.
Losing as little as three or four hours of sleep a night for a week has adverse effects on the body's ability to process carbohydrates, manage stress, maintain a proper balance of hormones and fight off infections.12 Prolonged sleep deprivation, therefore, may be as detrimental to health as poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. So, amidst holiday preparations and parties, gift shopping and packaging and extra family responsibilities, it's important to add one more item to your Christmas list: go to bed early and get enough sleep.