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Healthy holiday eating doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. MyPlate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help you make healthy choices even during the holidays.
Fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables and limit your alcohol to keep from over-indulging this holiday season.
A registered dietitian shares tips and insights to keep you healthy — and well fed — this holiday season.
Healthy holiday eating may sound like the ultimate oxymoron or urban myth. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and all the other holidays, family and work gatherings that take place throughout November and December, it can feel like over-indulging and elastic-waist pants are unavoidable at this time of year.
That’s not necessarily true, according to Megann Karch, RDN, CD, a registered dietitian at Providence Swedish Cherry Hill Campus in Seattle, Washington, who says eating healthy dishes and enjoying your holiday celebrations is possible. Here are some of her favorite strategies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate is an easy-to-use visual guideline that helps you fill your plate with healthy portions of the foods you should be eating — even on special occasions. MyPlate replaced the food pyramid and serves as the official symbol of the five food groups.
“While you are probably eating different kinds of foods at Thanksgiving, you can still look to MyPlate as a format to inform your decisions,” Karch said.
Here are the different components of MyPlate:
Fruits and vegetables
If you look forward to seasonal side dishes all year, you may already follow MyPlate guidelines to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Between the green bean casserole, numerous salads, sweet potatoes and other vegetables that fill your holiday table, you should have plenty of choices that feel "celebration-worthy."
“Of course, that changes for people with diabetes,” said Karch. “They have to monitor their blood sugar and the number of carbohydrates in every meal, so they should pay special attention to starchy vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. Really, what that means is that a quarter of your plate is starchy or sugary plants such as fruits and potatoes, and a quarter is non-starchy vegetables, such as lettuce, carrots or green beans.”
Fill a quarter of your plate with grains, particularly whole grains. If you’re not the chef, you may have little choice about the type of grains on the menu. But, if you do have some say in the menu, include whole-grain rolls, brown rice and other whole-grain options.
Finally, you should reserve a quarter of your plate for protein. If your family serves turkey for Thanksgiving, that’s an easy win. Other examples of good proteins include beans, nuts and tofu.
MyPlate considers dairy separate from the "plate" because you can drink a glass of milk with your meal. At a holiday meal, the dairy portion of your food may be the cream soup used in the green bean casserole or the cheese on potatoes. It could also be a treat like cheesecake or ice cream.
One of the biggest challenges of a holiday meal is overeating — simply because there are so many rich foods to eat. Karch suggests taking enough of each dish for just two or three bites. “Then, you’ll have room to try all the different things,” she said. “If you’re truly hungry, you can go back for seconds.”
Managing holiday parties
Once Thanksgiving is over, holiday parties and celebrations bring even more tempting but unhealthy food choices. Make it easier on yourself and don’t show up hungry, suggests Karch.
“When people don’t eat for hours, they think they are saving their calories for the party,” Karch said. “But if you have not properly nourished your body leading up to this event, you’re less likely to make good decisions. Instead, eat normal meals so you’re not starving by the time you arrive.”
If you drink alcohol, monitor how much you’re drinking and keep within healthy limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that men limit themselves to two alcoholic drinks or fewer per day and women limit themselves to one drink or fewer.
“Frankly, alcohol is a toxin, and it’s hard for your body to deal with it on top of overeating and feeling the stress of the holidays,” said Karch.
Karch also suggests limiting your sweetened drinks, such as hot apple cider, hot chocolate and punch. Flavored seltzer water is a good choice. Put a splash of juice or punch in it for more flavor and to make it feel more festive. You can add a garnish to make it even fancier, like a mocktail, if you feel an excess of holiday spirit.
“Nobody’s perfect with their holiday eating, but people should at least have some awareness of what they are putting into their body,” Karch said.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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