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The holidays are here! That means there are going to be many opportunities to prepare and eat all those wonderful treats and traditional dishes that taste wonderful but aren’t very good for a healthy heart. If you have been trying to eat a heart-healthy diet, don’t let the holidays get the best of you. Instead follow these tips for cooking and eating well but keeping your heart health front and center.
Tip #1 Minimize saturated fats
When meal planning and shopping consider recipes that let you replace saturated and trans-fat ingredients with low- or no-fat substitutes. For example, rather than cream, use low fat yogurt, avoid tropical oils and choose liquid vegetable oils instead, choose lean meats and poultry without skin, and opt for baked rather than fried menu options. More ideas for lowering saturated fats can be found in the recipes.heart.org article, “Cooking to Lower Cholesterol.”
Tip #2 Revamp the menu
Many families have a set menu for holiday meals but a closer look will often show these dishes are laden with fats, salt, calories, and carbohydrates. Start with that savory stuffing everyone loves and consider ways to decrease all of the above. Ideas include substituting cubed vegetables for some of the bread, lowering the amount of salt added, and using vegetarian sausage instead of pork.
Next consider side dishes. Mashed potatoes full of cream and butter can be replaced with mashed cauliflower or roasted root vegetables, and those beloved marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes can be even better drizzled with honey and roasted to perfection. Get even more great holiday menu ideas in the tastybalancenutrition.com article, “Heart-Healthy Holiday Recipe Round-Up.”
Tip #3 Choose healthy snack options
Snacking is arguably a big part of the holiday season so plan ahead to include lots of easy, fresh snacks to replace all those gooey, salty and otherwise unhealthy snacks of the past. Start with fresh fruits and vegetables and mix-up easy but yummy dips and spreads like those in the healthline.com article, “15 Healthy Dips and Spreads.”
Add a little crunch with bowls of mixed nuts (preferably with low or no salt) as well as bowls of healthy alternatives to salty, greasy chips like those in the medicalnewstoday.com article, “9 of the best healthy chips of 2022.” For cracker lovers there are some really good options including those described in the prevention.com article, “12 Best Healthy Crackers to Buy for Snacking, According to Dietitians,” offering a variety of flavors and levels of protein and fiber.
Tip #4 Moderate sugar intake
It may seem impossible to resist when faced with tables of sugary holiday sweets but there are tricks to help make it much easier. For starters, when attending a party or get-together, eat a balanced meal beforehand. This will not only dull your desire for cookies and fudge but will help keep blood sugar levels even and help diminish cravings. Another trick is to choose just one treat instead of several and eat it slowly to thoroughly enjoy it. Find more ways to avoid sugar in the Psychology Today article, “5 Tips for Limiting Sugar During the Holidays.”
Tip #5 Watch out for beverages
Eggnog may be traditional, but it is also a minefield when it comes to healthy beverages, especially if it contains alcohol. Instead opt for something lighter like naturally flavored sparkling water, or sparkling water with a dash of a (no added sugar) juice like pomegranate or cranberry.
Another fun idea is hot beverages like apple cider with cinnamon, orange tea with cloves, or low-fat milk hot chocolate, or try some of the ideas in the ahundredaffections.com article, “20 Best Healthy Hot Drinks to Keep You Warm All Winter.”
Tip #6 Bake lighter
Bake goods have been a part of holiday traditions around the world for centuries, but now we know how unhealthy some of those lovely cookies, pies, tarts, muffins, and breads can be. That said, there are plenty of ingenious ways to swap out some of the least healthy ingredients for others.
For example, the University of Virginia blog, “Healthy Holiday Baking Tips,” suggests replacing a portion of butter or oil in recipes with yogurt or applesauce, changing up that white flour for whole wheat for more fiber, and experimenting with lower amounts of sugar or substituting pureed fruit for some of the sugar instead.
Another idea is to start a new baking tradition using a recipe that is already reformulated to be healthier but still taste great. Checkout the eatingwell.com article, “24 Healthy Baking Recipes to Make This Weekend” or the foodnetwork.com article, “Healthy Holiday Desserts” for some really mouthwatering options to try.