Making sure the holidays don’t derail your diet

Women at table sharing vegetables 
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Keeping your diet in check during the holidays can be tough with so much focus on family-favorite recipes and treats.

But even though it may be tempting to ignore your diet amid the holiday bustle, it’s important to stay focused on eating as healthfully as possible during the holidays, said Penny Kris-Etherton, a distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University. “It's just not a time to derail the train from the train track.”
While holiday foods and healthy eating may not go hand-in-hand, a few simple strategies can help you stay on track, said Kris-Etherton, immediate-past chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee and chair of its Lifestyle Nominating Committee in the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.  She recommends the following tips for eating healthier during the holidays:

Give family favorites a healthy make-over. Most recipes can reduce fat, sugar and salt by about a third without anyone noticing.

Focus on naturally healthy foods. Adding more naturally healthy foods during the holidays — and throughout the year — can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke associated with fatty, salty and sugary dishes. Roasted turkey breast is lean and low in calories and already part of many traditional Thanksgiving spreads. Same goes for sweet potatoes, which are packed with nutrients and can be a healthy choice, depending on how they are prepared.

Make smart swaps. Use a heart-healthy oil or tub margarine instead of butter. Add seasoning instead of more salt if a dish seems bland — just don’t add so much that it drastically alters the taste.
Swap the cream of mushroom soup mix and fried onions on the green beans for olive oil, herbs and a few roasted almonds for crunch. Can’t resist the favorite family stuffing? Try reducing the amount of sausage or subbing mushrooms or nuts for the meat.

"Try something new," Kris-Etherton said. For a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes, try mashed turnips or mashed cauliflower.

Don’t fill up on appetizers. Eat some fruit or vegetables before a party to avoid arriving hungry. Once you’re there, choose raw vegetables rather than fried foods and select salsa for dipping rather than a sour cream-based dips. Snack on baked or air-prepared chips, gluten-free crackers or popcorn, assuming it isn’t overly laden with salt. "You don't have to totally avoid the chips and the savory snacks, but choose something lower in calories," she said.

Sip wisely. Drinking water, coffee, tea or other non-caloric beverages can help keep you feeling full. Alcohol consumption is fine in moderation but remember drinks can have a lot of calories too. A glass of wine contains about 100 calories, while a cup of eggnog is more than 300 calories without any added alcohol.

Slow down, be mindful. Enjoying each bite, avoiding seconds and practicing portion control during meals, including dessert and toppings, are important strategies to avoid overindulging. Using a smaller plate is another good strategy. Go ahead and eat that pumpkin pie, but make it a small piece and ask yourself, "do you really need the whipped cream?" If the answer is "yes," take just a dollop.

Get moving. Physical activity can help balance extra eating by burning calories and taking your mind off food.