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Celebrate the Holiday Season! Eat Sensibly and Healthfully
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by Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, and Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University

The holidays are a central part of celebrating life, love and time together with family and friends. There are so many festive activities that are centered around an abundance of food, so much of which is loaded with sodium and calories from solid fats and added sugars. You have worked very hard over the year to eat a heart healthy diet and now, with some simple recipe modifications and other strategies, you can enjoy the holiday festivities and still eat healthfully.

There are wonderful resources from the American Heart Association that you can use for heart smart holiday cooking. Check out their Holiday Healthy Eating Guide and their article on Seasonal, Heart Healthy Holiday Foods. In addition to making healthy holiday recipes for you and your loved ones, other tips include practicing mindful eating. Read the American Heart Association article: This Holiday Season, Eat Mindful, Not Mindless. 

Beyond practicing mindful eating and healthy cooking, there are other tips to stay on track with healthy eating during the holiday season. Challenge yourself to eat a salad every day throughout the holiday season; this will help you feel full, increase your vegetable servings, and avoid eating an abundance of tempting, high-calorie foods. Try to control portions so that you can enjoy tasty treats in moderation. Balance your plate by enjoying seasonal fruits and vegetables when you are partying so you don't overload on calorie-laden foods. Seasonal 'goodies' are to be enjoyed, but we know the first three bites are the best, so do not fill your plate with these foods!

The holiday ritual is to create special moments with family and friends, so plan group activities that do not focus on food! Turn candy and cookie-making into non-edible projects like making wreaths, dough art decorations, or a gingerbread house. Try serving a holiday meal to the community, playing games, or going on a walking tour of decorated homes!

If cooking and baking are the holiday traditions in your family, make it a festive and heart healthy eating experience! Sharing these special moments nourish the soul in addition to the body. Make holiday foods that are fun to prepare as a group -- that way you will enjoy making them not focus solely on eating them!

Here are some sensational snacks for special holiday moments:

  • Enjoy a pomegranate! Pomegranates contain only 100 calories and are a rich source of fiber and antioxidant vitamins. What is unique and fun about this fruit is that it takes a long time to pick out the delectable seeds, but the time is worth it, since they are so very tasty!
  • Enjoy chestnuts! While many are familiar with the refrain: 'chestnuts roasting on an open fire,' few have ever eaten them. So go buy some chestnuts and roast them on the grill. You will see how special they are! They are a rich source of complex carbohydrates, and they are loaded with potassium and folic acid.
  • Poach a pear! For a zesty and colorful holiday dessert, poach pears in zinfandel wine with orange zest and a medley of holiday spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Pears are a great source of viscous fiber, and they can help lower your cholesterol levels.
  • For a hearty meal that is perfect for a cold winter evening, enjoy a root vegetable soup! This is a great way to get a bounty of heart-healthy vegetables. Be sure to include carrots for a rich source of antioxidants and carotenoids. For help getting started, read our heart healthy winter vegetable soup recipe!

Try these heart-healthy holiday recipes:

Spinach pomegranate salad

Winter vegetable soup 

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