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Eating healthy during the holidays: a gift to yourself


As you sit down with family and friends before a table laden with holiday meats and treats, it may be difficult to consider eating healthy. But it can–and should–be done. Packing on the pounds may be among the most unwise and hurtful things you can indulge in during this season, especially if you’re already older or having challenges with weight, blood pressure or blood sugar.

However, there are tips that can be implemented to put at least some focus on nutrition throughout the holiday.

According to the National Institutes of Health, holiday eating, if uncontrolled, can result in extra pounds every year and, of course, can balloon to more pounds and more frustration over weight as the year progresses.

Yes, mac and cheese is delightful, dressing (or stuffing) is heavenly, fried chicken is dreamy, and red velvet cake is delectable, but just thinking about these dishes can cause lumps to appear in places where they aren’t wanted. This year there should be an effort to apply a healthy focus to the holiday meal.

It really isn’t that hard, some chefs contend.

Chef and nutritionist William Sharp of Los Angeles Trade Tech College, where he teaches a culinary arts course, has been in the food industry for more than 40 years. He has worked in fast food, military hospitals, on cruise ships, in restaurants, and been an executive chef for a hospital contract company.

“Dining should be an experience. Keep it traditional but with a healthy twist,” says Sharp, who promotes the idea of consuming smaller portions as a helpful tip. During the holidays, people have a tendency to try and pile everything on a plate instead of taking little by little of each dish.

“Enjoy yourself, slow down and take your time to eat more frequently and fully enjoy it,” says Sharp.

There are other ways to eat healthy throughout the season, but first you must understand why it is important to modify some eating habits. Once you have monitored your portions, the next step is to be selective about what you eat. Aim to have a balanced meal.

Chef Marilyn, owner and chef of Chef Marilyn’s Soul Food Express, believes staying healthy is the way to a balanced lifestyle. “You can’t eat yams, macaroni and cheese without eating vegetables,” says Marilyn. “Staying healthy is eating balanced.”

The more balanced the meals the better health will be, because we will have many of the nutrients, vitamins and proteins needed provided through the food we chose to eat.

Cooking healthy is the other component to eating healthy. For example, supplement olive oil for vegetable oil. And choose to bake, grill or broil rather than fry foods. Also, it is a good idea to use lemon to marinate your meats.

Practicing healthy cooking tips can help lower fat and calories, promote a healthy eating style, and add a healthy kick to your holiday cooking.

Chef Govind Armstrong of the new Baldwin Hills Crenshaw restaurant Post & Beam started cooking when he was about 10 years old.

“It was a way to spend time with my mom in the kitchen,” says Armstrong, who has cooked in various places around California, as well as in Spain and Italy, and currently has several 8 Oz. Burger Bars in Miami, Louisiana, Mississippi. He is also opening Burger Bars in Seattle and at LAX. In January 2012, Armstrong will open Post & Beam in Baldwin Hills.

Eating healthy throughout the holidays can be challenging, considering all the great foods being prepared and all the great local restaurants open throughout the season. “Try to incorporate some exercise; even a stroll around the neighborhood after your meal can help,” says Armstrong.

“What you eat is only one part of being healthy. Go to sleep early and don’t eat crap after 10 p.m.”

Exercise is always a good way to remain healthy. Planning time to exercise can help relieve stress and weight gain, and any increase in exercise can offset any increase in eating, balancing everything out.

Experts caution that you should neither skip meals nor overeat. But it’s a good idea to curb your appetite by eating fruit or a light snack to carry you over until dinner. Since overeating can lead to becoming stuffed, it is a good practice to eat at a slower pace and until you feel content.

Discover healthy replacements for certain foods such as water instead of juice, collard greens instead of stuffing or dressing, fruit instead of cookies and cupcakes, and a salad or soup for an appetizer instead of chips and dip or candy.

Another goal is to eliminate bingeing. Try not to fall victim to temptation by feeling the need to eat as much food as is presented to you. Take your time don’t splurge on everything all at once.

Try engaging in conversation, fun, and laughter with your loved ones in between portions, allowing some digestion to take place before going back for more.

Here are five tips from Lisa Lillien, New York Times best-selling author and creator of

* Say yes to the right hors d’œuvres: Is your company party looming and you’re already dreading the platters of mini quiches and pigs in a blanket? Don’t worry; just zero in on the lean protein and veggies. Look for crudite with salsa and shrimp cocktail. These low-calorie yet filling appetizers will take the edge off your hunger without weighing you down.

* Happy hour done right: Eggnog is delicious, but a single cup without alcohol has around 400 calories. For something seasonal yet sensible, try a mixed drink made with one shot of fruity flavored vodka, club soda and a splash of cranberry juice. Wine and champagne are also good options.

* Cuckoo for chocolate: Everywhere you look chocolate candies and pastries tempt your taste buds, but those come with a high-calorie price tag. Luckily, you can have your candy and eat it too. When a chocolate craving hits, look for lower-calorie options like Skinny Cow Candy. These treats have 120 calories or less per serving and are completely delicious. They come in four flavors including milk and dark chocolate Dreamy Clusters and milk chocolate or peanut butter Heavenly Crisp bars.

* Don’t deprive yourself of seasonal favorites: From pumpkin and apple pie a la mode to stuffing and holiday ham, tons of special treats show up during the holidays. You can still enjoy them, just eat in moderation. Instead of scooping a huge pile of stuffing on your plate, put just enough to satisfy a craving; then fill your plate with veggies and lean meat. For dessert, skip the “a la mode” and just have a few bites of your favorite sweet indulgence.

* Snack attack: If you allow yourself to get super-hungry before the big meal, there’s a good chance that you’re going to overdo it when dinner is served. Have a satisfying snack beforehand, like an apple, a container of fat-free yogurt, or a stick of light string cheese. Then you can focus on making smart decisions and enjoying the holiday festivities.