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7 Tips For Healthy Holiday Noshing

Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

There are so many people writing “Eat this!” and “Don’t eat that!” when it comes to the holiday season, it feels like a bit of a buzzkill. After all, food is at the heart of our best-loved holiday traditions and culture, whether baking cookies, shaking cocktails or hosting feasts for friends and family. I would never encourage you to deny these most simple and beautiful of life’s pleasures. I’m a nutrition scientist, not a nutrition Grinch.

Forget denial! Instead, follow these science-based strategies to help your body naturally consume less. Enjoy the season healthfully without making that tired resolution to lose those holiday pounds come the first of the year.

Select smaller plates and cups

Behavioral research conducted at Cornell University and elsewhere has found that selecting smaller plates and cups leads to less food and drink consumed. There’s simply not as much room on your plate for food, which helps manage portions. You can help yourself, and others, by setting your holiday table with smaller place settings. Choosing smaller plates is especially important in a buffet situation, which is a recipe for overindulgence given all of the tasty choices for the taking. This strategy is especially important when consuming calorie-laden foods like cheese and desserts. Another benefit of this tip is that going for smaller portions means you’re more likely to eat what’s on your plate, which means less food waste.

Swap water for wine (sometimes)

Choose water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

Choose water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy festive holiday libations as much as that overflowing platter of sumptuous sweets. Liquid calories contribute heavily to our daily energy intake. And, whether alcoholic or not, our bodies aren’t good at recognizing calories in liquid form, so we tend to just pack them on as extra. Why not swap water for wine (or nonalcoholic punch, or soda) now and again? Keeping hydrated is always a good idea, especially when there is a lot of drinking happening. Choosing water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening out means you’re consuming that many fewer calories. Extra-added bonus: you’re less likely to be “that person” at the office holiday party. (You’re welcome.)

Savor every delectable bite

If you’re taking smaller portions then you’ll definitely want to make sure you are enjoying every single bite. The advice to chew slowly and consume mindfully is never more important than during the holidays. There are so many good reasons to do so. First of all, it takes time for your brain to respond to satiety signals that tell you “Stop eating! I’m full!” We often don’t hear these signals, either because they are drowned out by our desire for more or because we are not giving our body the chance to react. Further, the holiday season in all its succulence is meant to be savored. Enjoy each moment, including the hedonic pleasures that eating evokes. In so doing, you’ll likely consume less food and have fewer stomachaches from over consumption.

Go for green

A beautiful beet salad can be healthy, as well as festive. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

A beautiful beet salad can be healthy, as well as festive. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

Holiday treats tend to be rich in calories. Baked brie, iced sugar cookies, boozy eggnog… Where was I? Yet nutrition scientists recommend that you fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits daily. We are lucky that the increased awareness of consuming plant-based foods for optimal health and weight means that restaurants and businesses are increasingly featuring veggies and fruits on their menus. I encourage you to do the same when you’re planning a meal at your own home. This tip may sound tired, but the dishes needn’t be. There are so many festive ways to prepare vegetables for your holiday table. Think: spinach salad with ruby-red pomegranates and crunchy toasted almonds; roasted butternut squash with crimson cranberries and caramelized onions; or herbaceous arugula with figs, pine nuts and a zesty vinaigrette. And why not feature fruit for dessert, like red wine-poached pears with blackberries? Don’t neglect these superfoods this holiday season.

Hara hachi bu at home

Holiday schedules quickly become packed with cheerful gatherings and epic nights on the town. But every night isn’t a party, and there are still times when you’re spending a quiet evening at home. Thinking about what you’re eating and drinking during those days are just as important as your noshing habits when you’re out. “Hara hachi bu” is an adage of the Okinawans, one of the longest-living populations in the world. It roughly means “eat to when you’re 80% full.” It’s outstanding advice for every day and any occasion, given research has shown that limiting calories throughout your life is related to longevity. But the recommendation is even more critical during this most wonderful time of the year. We all know what to expect when attending holiday parties: food, and lots of it. You’ll help balance your overall calorie intake if you can eat less and make healthier choices when at home.

Get out and play (often)

Get more activity into your holiday plans, such as ice skating. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Get more activity into your holiday plans, such as ice skating. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Weight gain is, ultimately, a simple equation: consuming more calories than you’re burning will lead to storage of energy in the form of body fat. Yet maintaining a fitness routine is a real challenge when there are more stresses on our schedules than ever. But the frustrating fact remains that we should actually increase our activity to compensate for the extra calories we’re consuming. I share your pain in the difficulty in making this happen, but I’d be remiss if the other side of energy balance — physical activity –wasn’t on my list. Hate running? Then how about walking to and from work or taking the stairs rather than the escalator when shopping at the mall? Perhaps ice-skating or a family football game? Jump rope? Hula hoop? Figure out what works for you –and stick to it. And if stuff gets in the way, don’t beat yourself up; just get back out there when you can.

Watch your weight (literally)

Weight gain occurs incrementally, and detecting small changes are best observed numerically. Monitoring your weight by stepping on a scale is the best way to tell whether your holiday feasting has gone awry. You might also consider measuring your overall body composition by calculating your body mass index, which is as important as measuring other physiological parameters such as blood pressure and blood lipids; all of these impact your risk of chronic disease. Weight gain around the waist is especially harmful because of its inflammatory effect, so keeping track of how your clothes are fitting throughout the season is also key. If you don’t own a scale, you might consider asking for one as a gift. Better yet, buy this present for yourself today.

 Main photo: Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby



Zester Daily contributor P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist and author with more than 20 years of experience researching diet-related diseases and teaching students about why what we eat matters, farm to fork. She is an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Harvard and spends most of her time writing, speaking, cooking and consulting to help build a healthier, more sustainable world. Her passion for nutrition stems from a lifelong love affair with food, developed from creating fabulous dishes in her own kitchen and working in the restaurant industry. She appeared on ABC’s “The Taste” as one of America’s “best undiscovered cooks” cooking globally inspired, plant-based cuisine. She is currently working on her next books to inspire people to live their healthiest lives, deliciously. Learn more about her and follow her blog: Cooking & Eating the PK Way.

 

 

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