Healthy Eating Around the Holidays and Beyond

By: Dianna Yanchis, BScFN

Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD

Beginning with Thanksgiving, the last few months of the year are a time of indulgence for many. From pumpkin pie to Halloween treats, turkey dinners and shortbread cookies, the temptations are endless. Following these festive, food-filled months comes the infamous New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, exercise, and get back on track to a healthy lifestyle.  But why wait until a certain date?  Developing healthy eating and exercise habits as part of your daily life will help you get through the holidays without losing track of your health. Here are some tips and tricks to keep on track before, during and beyond this holiday season!

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The healthy plate model

The Healthy Plate Model is a meal-planning tool to help you plan a healthy, balanced meal. It suggests filling ½ of your plate with vegetables/fruits, ¼ with a protein source, and ¼ with whole grains. This tool acts as a handy portion guide to help you avoid over-filling your plate.  Try adding a piece of fruit and a serving of milk or milk alternative on the side.  Here are some general guidelines for portion sizes and what types of foods to include:

  • ½ Vegetables/Fruits: choose as much as you can hold in both hands. Aim for variety and colour!
  • ¼ Whole grains: choose an amount the size of your fist. Include whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, and whole-wheat pasta.
  • ¼ Protein: choose an amount up to the size of the palm of your hand. Choose lean meats like chicken, pork, fish, and meat alternatives (beans, legumes, tofu). Limit processed meats like bacon and sausage.
  • Milk and milk alternative: glass of milk to drink or ½ cup of yogurt.

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By incorporating the Healthy Plate Model into your daily meals, it will be easier to follow this model for holiday meals as well.

Physical activity diverse-hands-holding-word-exercise-41200798

         Being physically active is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity has been linked to a wide range of mental and physical health benefits. Research suggests that those who are physically active tend to liver longer, have reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, have stronger bones and muscles and are generally happier and able to sleep better.  Unfortunately, many Canadians feel they do not have the time or the motivation to exercise regularly.

Getting started is often the hardest part; here are some tips that may help:

  1. Start slowly: Go for a walk once a day; gradually increase the duration or intensity.
  2. Walk whenever possible: Simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking instead of driving whenever you can. This can help breakdown that 30 minutes of exercise per day with out you even realizing it.
  3. Limit screen time: Spend less time watching TV and on the computer by limiting yourself to 1 hour/day.  This leaves you with more time to get in some physical activity.
  4. Get involved: Research what is available in your community.  This will help you become more aware of different types of recreation from swimming pools, bike trails, fitness classes, arenas and much more.  Physical activity is fun!
  5. Buddy System: Get a friend on board with getting physically active and motivate each other everyday.

Physical activity is something that everyone can enjoy doing.  Not only does it strengthen your body, but it makes you feel good about yourself.  Remember to integrate physical activity into everyday life; at home, at school, at work, any time you get the chance!

During the holidays, try to include physical activity to help offset the increased holiday eating, decrease holiday stress and prevent weight gain. Physical activity can include walking, running, swimming, yoga, sports, weight lifting, and cycling just to name a few!

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Balance

Eating a well-balanced diet and nutritious diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy and decrease your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  A balanced diet consists of consuming a variety of foods from all foods groups. A balanced diet ensures that you are receiving all the right nutrients that your body needs to function properly. The key to a healthy, balanced diet is not to omit any foods or food groups and to include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Carbohydrates are found in foods like rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, and cereals. When carbohydrates are consumed, the body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for the brain and muscles. The brain cannot function without glucose so we have to consume carbohydrates in our diet. Additionally, our bodies do not store large amounts of glucose, therefore, further emphasizing the need to consume carbohydrates as a regular part of our diet. Approximately 50% of your daily caloric intake should come in the form of carbohydrates. An important note to remember here is to include whole grains more often and refined carbohydrates like chips, pizza, and other processed foods less often.

Fat is also an important part of a healthy diet as it acts as a source of energy, allows for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, ensures proper functioning of the nerves and brain, and many more. There are specific fats that we call essential fatty acids that are essential for growth development and cell functions, but cannot be made by our body’s processes, therefore, we must consume them in our diet. These fats can be found in fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Approximately 25% of your daily caloric intake should come in the form of fat.

Lastly, protein is important for providing energy, helping you feel full, ensuring strong bones and muscles; it is an essential part of your DNA. Protein can be found in animal products, milk products, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Approximately 25% of your daily caloric intake should come in the form of protein.

Enjoyment

Food does not only nourish our bodies, but it provides pleasure and happiness to our mind and soul. As well as providing fuel, food brings joy to many. Eating is one of the most social events in our society- it can be a focus for special occasions and celebrations, and is often an opportunity for spending time with friends and family. All foods can be included as part of a healthy diet. It is important to enjoy all foods and to avoid restricting or eliminating foods from the diet. Eating is something that we do several times a day, every single day, therefore, enjoying the food you eat is important.  Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of milk and meat alternatives is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but indulging on those shortbread cookies every once in a while is OK!

Enjoy the holidays, plan a time for activity, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals, and don’t restrict yourself form enjoying your favourite holiday foods. For more tips on eating well during the holidays click here.

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