Eating Healthy During the Christmas Season
This is an encore post from a couple of years ago which was wildly popular. Enjoy!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that most Christmases start around Thanksgiving and finally end around Valentine’s Day. Why? Because we get hooked on hyper-flavoring, fats, sweets, and salts. Our notion of veggies looks more like mushy green beans—very few of them—doing the backstroke in mushroom soup sauce with a blizzard of deep-fried onion rings. In fact, at family holiday gatherings, anything that looks like a recognizable vegetable or fruit is shunned by everyone. So who in the world ate those? The person labeled health-nut and the diabetic who was scolded at the doctor’s office for a high A1C not long ago.
What This Type of Feasting Does
The rich fat and carb-laden foods are accompanied by sugar and salt—lots of it. Comfort foods, like what we see during the holidays, are highly addictive. They create feel-good hormones like getting a prize or having sex which are released into the bloodstream. We also associate certain foods with people, places, and times of the year (Psychology Today). This effect makes it hard for many people to go back to eating healthy when the holiday is finished. As a result, they struggle to leave the holiday on the holiday.
Not only do we put on extra weight, around .2-.4%, between Thanksgiving and New Year, but we also compromise our health (MSN). Much of what feels like the extra weight is often bloat. If someone has pre-diabetes, it could push them over the edge into type 2 diabetes. Certain foods during family gatherings are higher in purines which aggravates gout (Medical News Today). Salt and fats make blood pressure rise, so those with high blood pressure, controlled by medication, will likely find their blood pressure high anyway. Extra refined carbs and fats aggravate heart disease and cause inflammation in the body. You will feel yucky and lethargic but happy. Ridiculous, huh?
I’ve worked with clients who had been eating clean for a few weeks and came back from Christmas parties feeling like absolute garbage. But, after they learned their lessons, they took healthy foods to share so they would stay well at future gatherings.
So Why Feast?
There is a biblical foundation for feasts as celebrations. Feasts were always a part of religious observances, often with a fast involved before the feast, weddings, and other holy days. In Psalm 22:19, We read that the prosperous shall eat and worship, and everyone who dies will bow before Him (Jesus). In Ecclesiastes 10:17-19, we see a proper time for feasting and celebration that brings laughter and joy, but not for the sake of overindulgences. So there is a time to feast, but we should go back to living a healthy lifestyle when the celebration is over.
Tips to Help Reduce the Misery
How do we incorporate them into the Christmas season? Those sauces hide your veggies, the ones that had the nutrients boiled right out of them. As a result, they are laden with fats, salt, and carbs. Steamed veggies retain more nutrients while they still have a bit of crispness, so season them with garlic, rosemary, or other herbs and spices. Fresh cut vegetables like broccoli and carrots retain the nutrients your body craves. If you like the taste of dips or sauces, lightly dip veggies into sauces for a light taste that highlights, not hides, the flavor of fruits and vegetables. If you like them roasted, use a healthy oil with a touch of herbs, but avoid too much salt. A light dash will do. This way, you protect your health, your waistline, and you feel a whole lot cheerier. It is a win-win!
As we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we enjoy some seasonal treats, but we can also choose to celebrate with God’s provision of healthy, nutritious food to function well throughout the season. It’s good to not aggravate health conditions by overdoing salty, sugary, fat-laden foods. Swap out the sour cream and use low-fat plain yogurt. Even using non-dairy alternatives would improve the nutrition content and lower the saturated fats. Replace unhealthy fats like butter and coconut oil with healthy fats like olive, grapeseed, and safflower oils. Fats are flavor enhancers, and you need them in small servings, just not as much as the original recipe. Reduce salt and sugar, but increase the seasoning or spices to make foods flavorful. Watch out for some blended seasonings because they often contain a lot of salt or sugar. Mrs. Dash is a great alternative, but it’s not gluten-free for people with celiac or gluten sensitivity, so make your own blends. Find low-fat meats without any preservatives, which cause fluid retention and bloat. I like uncured meats when possible.
Rather than adding glazes to hams, or gravy to turkey, chicken, or beef, use bone broth instead. This ramps up the flavor. Avoid brining or deep frying turkey, for Pete’s sake! Ugh! Bake, roast, or broast meats instead. You could inject seasoning into the meat or marinate overnight before cooking. You want your guests to absolutely love eating healthy with you.
Incorporate sweet potatoes without adding anything to them because they are already flavorful. Also great for holiday festivities are wild or black rice or quinoa with onions, peppers, and seasonings with low-sodium broth or bullion. Keep the carbs limited, though. So, rather than offering rolls, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, and rice pilaf, try simplifying your menu with wild or black rice or quinoa pilaf and baked sweet potatoes. Leave out the gravy, but substitute with a light broth sauce.
Many desserts can be healthy and delicious. Try using coconut milk instead of condensed milk. How about honey or maple syrup instead of cane sugar? You can use avocado in chocolate desserts like chocolate mousse pie with a crushed nut crust. The options are endless!
Looking for more healthy swaps? Check here:
A special note: Look for gluten-free on your meat labels. Use corn or rice starch instead of flour to make sauces. Do find out if your guests have food allergies as well. Corn starch could be devastating to someone with allergies to corn. Use cookware or foil baking pans to avoid cross-contamination. This way, your menu will make your gluten-free and allergy-free guests breathe a sigh of relief.
Celebrate! After all, Jesus did! Enjoy Jesus’ birthday with a lovely feast. He is the reason for this season. May God bless you!