By Jordan Chen, Registered Dietitian
Holidays are a joyous time of the year when we get together with friends and family. A big part of that joy involves food.
Remember these tips to avoid unwanted holiday weight gain and limit the amount of salt and sugar in your diet, while still being able to enjoy the foods you like in moderation.
Watch Your Salt
When limiting the amount of sodium you eat, a good rule of thumb is that processed foods (think of boxed, frozen, canned, bagged, or prepackaged foods) tend to be higher in sodium than unprocessed foods.
A good way for you to tell if you ate too much salt will be if you have swelling in your hands, ankles, feet or abdomen.
This swelling is can be a sign of fluid retention and could be due to your heart not being able to keep up with blood supply. If you have Congestive Heart Failure and notice a 3 pound weight gain in the span of one day, call your doctor immediately.
Tip: If you’re out at a holiday party, try to watch portions of foods that will be saltier. Instead of choosing chips, crackers, deli meats or rolls, try to eat more from the fruit or vegetable tray. Unsalted nuts are also a healthy snack to choose.
Tip: When eating out, entrees that say “fried," “smothered,” “creamy,” or “crispy” may indicate it is loaded with salt. Instead, look for keywords such as “baked,” “steamed” or “fresh.” I also suggest taking half of your meal to go since portions are much bigger than you would eat at home.
Tip: When going grocery shopping this holiday season (or any other time of the year), try staying on the perimeter of the grocery store, which will mostly consist of the produce section, fresh meats and fresh dairy. Usually the inner aisles are where you will find more preservatives added to foods, and this is where you will find high sodium items.
Tip: When looking at a food label, I generally say that items with greater than 300 mg of sodium are considered “high sodium” and items with less than 140 mg of sodium are “low sodium.” When eating these foods, keep portions in mind as well, because the food label only has the amount of sodium listed per serving.
Watch Your Sugar
Sugar is also in a lot of our favorite holiday treats. It adds a lot of excess calories in our diets with no nutritional value and is easily stored as fat. Treats such as cakes, cookies, and candies are obvious sources of added sugar.
Sugary beverages such as hot chocolate, mochas and soda typically have more than a daily requirement for sugar.
Tip: A simple way to cut back on sugar would be to avoid sugary beverages. If you like the fizz of soda, try sparkling water. Fruit juices can be packed with sugar too, so try to switch to water infused with berries or other slices of fruit, which can give a hint of the fruity flavor. Even sugar-free beverages can be a healthier option, especially when trying to avoid unwanted holiday weight gain.
Tip: When at a holiday party, it can be hard to avoid the dessert table. If you feel like indulging, I would recommend trying “mindful eating” practices at the holiday get-together: Take the one piece of dessert you really want and take the time to enjoy it by savoring every bite.
Tip: At home, the easiest way to avoid indulging in sweets is to keep trigger foods out of the house. I usually recommend shopping on a full stomach so you don’t impulse buy at the store. Then if you have an intense craving, I recommend waiting 15 minutes. If it is still there, go out and buy one portion of what you are really craving so this way you can satisfy that desire and move on.
Tip: Read the food label for added sugars. The food label now differentiates between total sugars and added sugars. Added sugars are what we want to limit the most, with a goal to stay below 25 35 grams per day. Some common names for added sugars include brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses, malt sugar, high fructose corn syrup.
If you have trouble monitoring salt or sugar intake or would like to explore how food can help control your blood sugars, cholesterol or other levels, please contact Registered Dietitian Jordan Chen to schedule a consultation.