The holiday season is traditionally filled with food, fun, family and friends. This year, Dr. Poorna Nalabothu, a cardiologist with the Heart Center at St. Marks, suggests you spend a little more time having fun with family and friends than eating the food on the buffet table if you're hoping to keep your heart healthy during this holiday season: "Do everything in moderation," Nalabothu said.
She also suggested you head into the holidays with a solid knowledge of your health conditions and your doctor's recommendations on how to manage them.
Here are a few other things everyone can do to stay heart-healthy during the holidays.
Choose the smaller plate
When it's time to eat, go for a salad or dessert-sized plate. That way you can sample a little of each flavor and you don't feel tempted by the wide open spaces of a larger plate to fit in more food than you're actually hungry for. And try not to go back for seconds if you can help it.
Indulge yourself . . . in one dessert
Staying heart-healthy doesn't mean eschewing dessert altogether. Choose one dessert each day to indulge in and throw the holiday guilt out the window. Moderation is key.
Plan activities that don't revolve around food
There is more to the holidays than food, so if you're in charge of a family gathering this year, make sure you plan activities that get people out of the kitchen and dining room. Holiday activities might include a scavenger hunt in the park, a neighborhood game of kickball, caroling, board games, tours of local Christmas lights or an evening spent listening to older family members tell stories.
Go easy on the salt
"Patients who have high blood pressure should stay away from salt. Avoid salty food like chips or other salty snacks," Nalabothu said.
So when it comes to meals and snacking, try to limit your sodium intake by eating gravies, meat, stuffing, chips and dips sparingly. If you're craving something crunchy, try carrot sticks or corn on the cob. If you really want a dip, try dipping your veggies in cranberry sauce. Trying new, less salty flavors could be a new holiday tradition.
Don't overbook yourself
The thinner you spread yourself, the more likely you are to stress eat. Don't skip meals because you're too busy shopping or cleaning or cooking. Keeping an even blood sugar throughout the day will help you control your cravings more successfully and make you less susceptible to impulse purchases and unhealthy snacking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a list of ways to reduce holiday stress including, "Keep your commitments and spending in check. Balance work, home, and play. Get support from family and friends. Keep a relaxed and positive outlook. Make sure to get proper sleep."
Dish up colorful foods (fruitcake doesn't count)
The more colorful your plate, the healthier. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests, "Start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall. Eat slowly and savor every bite, and before you go back for seconds wait 10 minutes to see if you really are still hungry."
Work in some daily exercise
The weather might be a little frightful, but it's important to continue getting plenty of exercise during the holidays.
"Even when the air gets dirty from Utah's winter inversions, exercise is important," Nalabothu said. "Don't be afraid to go outside and exercise." Check the weather forecast each day so you can plan the next day's exercise for the best time (e.g. highest temperature or least chance of precipitation). If the outdoors are especially forbidding, plan a family dance party or play a rousing game of Twister instead. Any exercise is better than no exercise.
Make an appointment today to create a personalized heart-healthy holiday plan with a trained physician at one of MountainStar Medical Group's convenient locations.
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