Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, December 21, 2009

Experts offer tips for healthy eating over the holidays

The holidays present us all with eating challenges, says Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer for the university. Traditionally, most of what people consume during the holidays is food high in saturated fat, which causes arteries to develop cholesterol buildup, potentially inhibiting blood flow to the heart muscle.

Although research has shown that the proverbial 5- to 10-pound holiday gain many people talk about, in reality, is on the average about one pound, scientists have shown that gaining one pound a year in adulthood can add up, since it often is weight that is not lost.

So Winfield and some campus nutrition experts are encouraging healthy eating during every holiday season by promoting tips on moderation and foods to avoid.

“We should all set a limit on high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar foods. They add up in calories quickly,” says Erica Wald, registered dietitian with MHealthy Nutrition and Weight Management.

Besides knowing what is healthy and what’s not, planning also is useful, Wald says. “Moderation and portion control are very important concepts. Be mindful of what is going in your mouth when you’re sitting down to eat,” she says.

Wald suggests that if a person is going to pick a high-calorie food to try — such as grandma’s special pecan pie — go ahead and have some, but choose a small portion and pass on the potato chips. “Pick what really matters; pick the special foods,” she says.

Experts also encourage only moderate exercise after eating large meals, but keeping up regular exercise;manage holiday stress; and choose healthy food offerings as often as possible.

Wald identifies some of the most notorious high-calorie holiday offerings as fried foods, candy, baked goods (including cookies and pies), whole milk and dairy products — cheese, veggie and chip dips — and sugary and alcoholic beverages including pops and juices.

“Healthy foods are fruits, vegetables, light dairy products — light yogurt and light cheeses, made with 2 percent milk or skim milk, identified on the packages — lean proteins like hummus, beans and edamame, whole-grain popcorn and whole-grain crackers,” Wald says.

Wald recommends making a plan on how to eat healthy over the holidays, keeping a food and activity log, and sitting down to eat. She also recommends keeping up with exercising. “Do it early in the day before other commitments get in the way, make an appointment with yourself to do it,” she says.

Joan Daniels and Nancy Burke, registered dietitians at the Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC), offer “Nine Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating” on the UMCCC Web site. Their advice includes:

• Don’t go hungry to a holiday event; eat a snack or light meal. Eating high-protein foods including cottage cheese, nuts or chicken helps one eat less later. Leaving room for a big meal often leads to overeating.

• Fill up on fiber. Choose appetizers that will help meet the recommended guideline of five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day.

• Pace, don’t race. Many times, people eat so fast that their stomachs do not have enough time to register they’re full.

• Limit fast food. Prepare and freeze quick healthy meals ahead of time.

• Offer to bring a low-calorie dish to holiday parties. Your host will appreciate it and you will know that at least one healthy item will be on hand. Find suggestions at the UMCCC recipe database.

• Exercise can be a huge stress reliever.