Holidays, In The Sweet Spot
By: David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM
In general, my advice about holiday eating is: let the good times roll! After all, that’s what holidays are all about.
The trouble isn’t really the holidays- it’s all the other days. If we over-indulge throughout the year, we are headed toward trouble, no matter what we do on the holidays. On the other hand, if you eat well and stay active year round, it’s very unlikely the holiday temptations will harm you, for two reasons.
First, health is a product of what we do most of the time, not from time to time. So a routine of healthful eating and physical activity will, to some extent, immunize you against occasional indulgence.
Second, though, is that if you truly do eat well throughout the year, even your holiday indulgences will be less indulgent, because your palate will be more sensitive. Taste buds learn to love the foods they’re with. If you don’t eat much added sugar, salt, harmful fats, or fast foods routinely, you won’t like anything in that wheelhouse. Less sweet will be sweet enough for you; less salty will be plenty salty.
Still, some restraint during the holidays may work in your favor, especially if you can make good choices without treading on the good times. I think you can.
With regard to added sugar, look for it- and avoid it- in places where you get the least benefit from it. Be careful of dips and spreads. If you do indulge in those, they should be simple and wholesome: hummus, bean dips, guacamole, olive tapenade. Store bought spreads routinely contain added sweeteners.
So do many commercial sauces, and salad dressings. If you are concerned about total sugar intake, the last thing you need to do is eat lettuce with sugar (of some kind) poured over it. Go for the simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Don’t drink soda. I don’t think drinking soda makes sense, ever, but it’s an especially bad idea during holidays when you want to allocate that calorie allowance to much better use. Drink water, or seltzer- the latter, if you like, with fruit essence to give it some pizzazz. You can save a lot of calories, and cut out a lot of sugar, just be choosing better beverages. Beware sugar-sweetened beverages of all varieties, including teas and those unpronounceable coffee concoctions that prevail these days.
With regard to holiday meals, some sugar may be unavoidable. Cranberry sauce will contain some, inevitably. Allow for that, and move on.
The best approach to controlling not just sugar, but nutrition overall, during holiday feasts is to eat plenty of the most wholesome offerings. That may include root vegetables, salads, and perhaps a stuffing made from grains and nuts. The choices will vary with the family, the table, and the traditions, but you get the idea. Don’t focus on what not to eat: look over the options, and choose items in the “loving food that loves you back” category. That’s a Katz family tradition!
As for dessert, there certainly are ways to have your cake and eat it too, but those reside not so much with the eater, as with the cook. If you are involved with food preparation, consider recipes that allow you to have wonderful desserts, but with much less sugar than is customary.
Just a little bit of care and attention should allow for enjoyment of wonderful holiday meals, without needing to supersize your wardrobe afterward. But in general, if you are very concerned about holiday eating, it likely means the rest of the year isn’t entirely under control either. If you make eating well and being active the year-round the norm, you really can do at holiday time just what holidays warrant: kick back, relax, and let the good times roll!
Very happy, healthy holidays to you and yours.
Director & Founder, Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, David L. Katz, MD is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Katz has published over 100 scientific papers, numerous textbook chapters, nearly a thousand newspaper columns, and 12 books to date. He is the principal inventor of the Overall Nutritional Quality Index utilized in the NuVal™nutrition guidance program, currently offered in over 500 supermarkets throughout the United States. Katz has been recognized by the Consumers Research Council of America three times (2004; 2006; 2009) as one of America’s top physicians in Preventive Medicine and in 2009 he was named one of the 25 most influential people in the lives of children by Children’s Health magazine.