Did you know the busiest days for non-COVID emergency room visits in 2021 are projected to occur between Christmas and New Year’s Day? The culprit is too many (and too much) of the wrong foods and alcohol.
The winter holidays offer sights and smells that enhance our cravings for sugary, salty and calorie-dense foods laced with artificial colors and preservatives. These ingredients are major contributors to heart disease, elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and even depression. Multiple studies have report how fats, preservatives and sugar lead to chronic disease — even early death.
The New England Journal of Medicine, reports that not only do most Americans gain an average of about 2 pounds during the holidays, but they also experience dramatic increases in blood pressure, body fat, elevated heart rate as well as severe indigestion. In fact, a study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that even a single meal high in saturated fat could impair artery function, resulting in a life-threatening health event for somebody already at risk.
So how do we navigate away from creamy foods, rich meats, buttery baked goods and all the fatty, salty, processed sugary foods while still enjoying the flavors of the season?
The answer comes down to making simple, healthy choices. The next time you go shopping, consider try this healthy holiday shopping list
- Turkey versus spiral ham versus roast. Of these traditional meals, Turkey is the healthier choice. Ham has 1,000 mg of sodium in 4 ounces and is a processed meat with potentially carcinogenic nitrites. Beef roasts have twice the calories and 16 times the fat as turkey.
- Keep your sides healthy. Throw out that recipe for that traditional string bean casserole or other sides laden with creams and fat. Instead, serve delicious produce served raw, baked, or steamed. By eating local produce in season, we enjoy food that nurtures our bodies, our local economy and our environment. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables offer your menu naturally occurring micronutrients, with each color indicating a different nutrient profile.
- Enjoy “skinny” potatoes. When it comes to potatoes, the sin is in the butter, cream, or gravy, not the potato itself. A baked potato about the size of a fist has about 170 calories and provides you with potassium, fiber, magnesium, iron, and vitamin C. Lighten the calorie load of mashed potatoes by using milk and nonfat yogurt, cutting back on the use of butter and sour cream.
- Pumpkin and sweet potatoes are great choices for your holiday table, low in calories and packed with fiber, vitamins A and C and antioxidants. Choose fresh if you can, but if you use canned, read the label to make sure you are not buying extra sugars and additives.
- Shrimp versus cheese and crackers. Five large shrimp have only 33 calories and 6 grams of protein. Shrimp is low in fat versus the saturated fats in cheese that’s linked to heart disease risk.
- Go nuts for snacks. It’s the time of year when fresh nuts in the shell are in many supermarkets. Nuts contain healthy fats and cracking open the shell slows consumption and allows for more mindful eating.
- Hot cocoa made with low-fat milk or a milk alternative and a teaspoon of sugar allows you to taste the holidays without guilt. Cocoa has antioxidants that may improve blood vessel function. A 2013 study by Harvard University found that people who drank two cups of flavanol-rich hot cocoa daily for 30 days saw an improvement in the brain’s blood circulation and an improvement on memory tests.
Heathy food choices will add to the sights and wonderful smells of your winter holiday, while also will building longevity and happy memories to share with family and friends.