By Lauren Dimitrov, RDN, MPH, LDN
It’s that time of year again—the holiday season—a time when we gather with all of our loved ones to spend time together, catch up on the years’ events, and enjoy some of our favorite holiday foods. We’ve all heard that people gain weight over the holidays, but studies show that it may not be as much as you think. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the average weight gain for the US population over the six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is just under two pounds! While these statistics are encouraging to hear, it’s still important to be mindful of your eating habits for the rest of the holiday season.
Have you ever wondered why you feel sleepy after eating a large meal? While some foods, such as turkey, are full of essential amino acids that are known to cause sleepiness, the real reason behind the phenomenon is quite simple; after eating a large meal, our bodies work extra hard to break down and absorb all of the nutrients. If you want to avoid the afternoon slump, make sure to eat a balanced breakfast so you don’t overeat at lunch or dinner.
Certain myths still exist about some of our favorite foods. One such example is the myth that potatoes are bad for you when in fact potatoes (and sweet potatoes) are full of nutrients such as vitamins A and C, B vitamins, as well as manganese and phosphorus. It tends to be the amount eaten and how the foods are prepared that make them less healthy. For example, ½ cup of mashed potatoes with gravy and one teaspoon of butter has three times the calories of ½ of a baked sweet potato with one teaspoon of butter and cinnamon.
We all tend to be busier than normal this time of year and if you are concerned about maintaining your healthy eating habits, don’t worry! Remember that all of your favorite holiday treats can still fit into a healthy eating plan. Here are some of our tips and tricks for navigating the holiday season:
- Shave calories when cooking by making easy substitutions. Instead of high-fat varieties, use chicken stock, fat-free yogurt, light cream cheese, low-fat milk, or non-fat evaporated milk anywhere you can. You can even substitute non-fat yogurt or applesauce instead of oil or butter in baked goods.
- Be mindful of your beverages. Low-calorie beverages such as sparkling water with lime or low-calorie punch are still enjoyable without the added sugar. If you do drink alcohol, remember the recommendation is no more than one serving per day for women and two per day for men (one serving= 4oz wine, 8oz beer, or 1 ½oz spirits).
- Remember that physical activity is still just as important around the holidays. Add it in wherever you can – park farther away from stores, take the stairs versus the elevator, or enjoy visiting with family and friends on a walk around the neighborhood.