The 12 Days of Christmas: Tips for a Heart Healthy Holiday

As we approach another holiday season, we will start (or have already started) to hear the sounds of Christmas music all around. With those festive tunes, the feeling of anticipation to gather with family for a holiday meal begins.

However, many who have worked hard to stay on top of their heart health can be worried about the overwhelming amount of food provided at many of our Christmas gatherings

Kendra Baker, RD 2.jpg

Kendra Baker, RD

This year let’s take some time to focus on how to combat some of these stressors so you and your family can have a heart healthy holiday season.

There are many lifestyle habits that can reduce risk of the development of heart disease including dietary habits, exercise, smoking/tobacco use, and stress management. The holiday season can be stressful, so planning your holiday meal ahead of time can take off a large burden of stress.

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Also, getting your family together while listening to your favorite Christmas songs can help make planning your Christmas meal more fun. So, turn on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (or any of your favorite Christmas songs) and enjoy the holiday season with these 12 tips to a more heart healthy holiday.

12 Heart Healthy Tips for the Holidays

1. Keep to your routine: If you avoid eating earlier in the day to “save room” for your holiday meal, you will likely overindulge on the calorie dense foods when they are placed in front of you. Consume a heart healthy snack and keep to your normal meal schedule to curb your hunger and help with portion control.

2. Monitor the portions: Enjoy your favorite dishes but look to take small portions of those foods higher in fat, salt, and/or added sugar. Increase the portions of your fruits and vegetables, lean meats (like your holiday turkey), and whole grains.

3. Find the fiber: Fiber is beneficial for your heart health as it can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans in your holiday meal to increase your fiber intake. Fiber can also help you feel full which can reduce the amount of overall calories consumed.

4. Flavor without salt: There is a plethora of different herbs and seasonings to make the food taste delicious without the unnecessary salt intake. Some favorite holiday spices include cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, rosemary, and many more.

5. Keeping salt out of sight: Removing the salt shaker from the table while eating and cooking can reduce the amount of sodium added to your meals. Out of sight, out of mind.

6. Find balance: If you know family members will bring food higher in salt to your gathering, cut down the sodium in your other meals of the day. This can reduce your total daily intake of sodium. However, do not skip meals like discussed in Tip #1.

7. Decreasing saturated fat: A roasted turkey (not fried) is a great main dish low in saturated fat. For the side dishes, switch some of the higher fat ingredients with low fat options. Examples include: replacing whole or 2% milk with nonfat or 1% milk and using olive oil or other vegetable oils instead of butter or lard.

8. Eat slowly and savor the flavors: Even if you take only 3 to 4 bite portions of your holiday favorites, slowing down and enjoying the flavor and aroma can still have that smaller portion be satisfying and filling. Eating slower gives your stomach time to tell your brain you are full without over doing the portion sizes.

9. Healthy hydration: Make sure you are consuming enough water to stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can increase caloric intake. However, it is important to be mindful of the types of beverages being consumed. Choose holiday drinks lower in sugar, salt, and fat, and skipping the alcohol can reduce those extra calories and protect your heart.

10. Different location: Make Christmas more than food. Have family activities in a different room, so the food is not in sight. Staying busy with activities that do not involve food can help reduce the total amount consumed.

11. Get up and move: Physical activity after eating can help with digestion, so encourage the family to go for a post-meal walk or play a fun outdoor game like flag football.

12. Resilience: If you do eat more than you planned on Christmas, do not give up on your heart healthy eating. Enjoy your holiday gathering. Remember, you can bounce back to your normal diet and routine the next day.

Kendra Baker is a Registered Dietitian at McLeod Regional Medical Center. She completed her undergraduate degree at Concordia College in Morehead, Minnesota and her dietetic internship with St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota.