Wholesome Holidays

As we embark on a season filled with gatherings and events often centered around food, many of us struggle with maintaining balance.  While it may be tempting to either give up on our health goals and indulge without a care or avoid gatherings altogether to not be tempted, there are ways to make healthier choices through the season without depriving yourself or your family.  These principles of eating and living well can even carry over into your family’s daily life after the holidays.

Choose real, whole foods as much as possible.

Author Michael Pollan offers this suggestion when deciding if a food is real and whole.  Simply ask, “Would our great-grandmothers recognize this as food?”  Food products or ‘industrialized foods’ are largely composed of processed derivatives of wheat, corn, soy, potatoes, as well as lots of sugar.  They come in boxes and packages and are typically found in the center aisles of the grocery store. These refined foods are often stripped of their naturally-occurring vitamins and nutrients during the refining process and may have them added back in, with the labels ‘fortified’ and ‘enhanced’.  Real, whole foods don’t need to be fortified, as their complex dynamic of nutrients remains intact.  Often, real foods will have a richer flavor than their highly processed counterparts, which means we feel satiated with less food.  Examples of real, whole foods include meats, fish, eggs, cheese, whole milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains like rice, quinoa, barley and oats.

Shop farmer’s markets for fresh, seasonal ingredients for your holiday meals.

You are not likely to come across harmful processed food ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and chemically-altered fats (trans fats) at the farmer’s market.  Often, you can bring home more for your money at a farmer’s market- including flavor!  Farmers will have foods that are in season and local, which means more flavor and freshness for your family’s holiday meals.  Local Houston Markets include:

Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market

Rice University Farmer’s Market

Sugarland Market at the Imperial Sugar Factory

Also, check out this great Guide to Houston's Best Farmer's Markets. 

Consider updating or retrodating your family recipes to include real, whole food ingredients. 

Many family recipes contain highly processed ingredients once thought to be healthy.  Substituting real, organic butter for margarine or vegetable shortening is one way to eliminate harmful chemically-altered fats from recipes.  Trans fats are the hydrogenated oils found in many food products which are known to promote inflammation, insulin resistance, and cholesterol imbalance.  Try substituting coconut oil, known for its anti-inflammatory and metabolism-enhancing properties, instead of processed vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, soybean, and other vegetable oils when cooking.  Another great butter option for those who can’t tolerate dairy is ghee, or clarified butter. You can purchase it at most grocery stores, or it is easy to make your own from organic butter. Here is a step-by-step tutorial to make your own ghee.  Other ideas to update your recipes include using fresh ingredients over canned when possible (green beans, pumpkin, stocks) as well as substituting real cane sugar, honey or molasses for refined white sugar for added nutrients.

When we eat is as important as what we eat. 

Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day rather than avoiding food altogether until the big meal or party.  You will keep your blood sugar balanced and avoid the tendency to overeat.  If you know you’re going to indulge in rich foods, choose fresh, raw veggies and lean protein for your other meals.  To ensure a good night’s sleep, try to allow at least 2 hours after a big, rich meal before going to bed.  Rich foods take longer to digest, which calls on your liver and other organs to work harder, making it challenging for your body to relax into a deep sleep until it is done digesting.

Keep it moving: Be active before and after your meals.

One obvious yet often overlooked way to keep things balanced through the holidays is exercise.  Many holiday treats are rich in carbohydrates and our bodies are most geared to utilize carbs after a workout.  Knowing this, we can plan meals and exercise accordingly.  Some ideas include a bike ride or outdoor games (remember freeze tag, frisbee, flashlight tag, and hide-and-go seek?).  Even a walk with a few intervals of skipping or jogging will do the trick.  And as tempting as it is to lounge around after a meal, your body will digest your food and you will likely feel better if you take a light 10-15 minute walk after a large, rich meal.  Try taking a family walk between the meal and desert.  Then eat and enjoy every bite of that pumpkin pie!

More tips to balance holiday indulging:

  • Enjoy everything you put in your mouth by tasting and appreciating the flavors and textures of the food.
  • Eat slowly and chew each bite completely.
  • Drink plenty of water between meals to assist in digestion and elimination.
  • Fuel up with nutrients before you go.  Since most parties serve carbs, fats and sugar almost exclusively, eat a small portion of protein and healthy fats before a party or event to ensure that you get a balanced intake of nutrients such as a 1/2 avocado with lemon and real salt, celery with almond butter, cucumbers with hummus, or a green smoothie are a few ideas.
  • Take good food with you (in the car, to parties, and to dinners).
  • Supplement with a high quality multivitamin, freeze-dried green powder, probiotic, and fish oil.
  • If attending lots of parties and functions during the holidays, eat very clean when you’re at home-mostly veggies and protein.

Relax and give yourself plenty of grace and forgiveness this season.  If you choose to indulge, taste and enjoy every bite!  Guilt has no place at the table.