Follow healthy eating habits during holidays
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Strategic planning and reliance on whole foods in holiday meals can help keep healthy eating habits from falling by the wayside.
David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said consumers can combat nutritional nightmares by making measured, realistic changes.
“People don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan,” Buy said. “When we don’t plan for meals, it leads us to convenience and comfort foods.”
Comfort foods are almost always popular in stores or at parties and other gatherings. However, when consumers plan their meals, they have greater accountability for the food they buy, prepare and eat.
“Be mindful of what you’re cooking with and how you’re eating personally,” Buys said. “Even though there are a lot of opportunities to eat away from home during the holidays, you’re still eating at home most of the time.”
“You don’t have to fully change the Christmas menu that you’ve had for 40 years or multiple generations,” Buys explained. “Just make small changes. Start to change the family culture little by little.”
MSU Extension nutrition specialist Brent Fountain also advocates for thoughtful planning.
“If you’re going to a Christmas party in the evening, adjust what you eat earlier in the day,” Fountain said. “Eat a smaller lunch or breakfast, or have a little salad or protein before going to events so you feel fuller and make wise choices at the party.”
Fountain said variety is another component of good health. Vegetables and fruit provide volume without excess calories.
To provide this variety, add more whole, fresh foods into diets. Foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, winter squash and greenhouse tomatoes are abundant during the winter season and can be found at many farmers markets or grocery stores.
While incorporating fresh foods into the diet is important, it is not a cure-all for overall poor health, Fountain added. Improved health may have more to do more with what is removed from the diet.
“Foods like vegetables and fruits might need extra ingredients to taste good. It is important to remember this when preparing them. Be aware that added fat and sugar will add unnecessary calories that may be problematic down the road,” Fountain said.
Consumers must also learn to interpret nutrition labels.
“From a nutrition standpoint, the biggest health concerns are added fat, sugar or sodium. They may be added in processed foods to add palatability or increase shelf life,” Fountain said. “However, when you choose to be an educated consumer, such as understanding and utilizing nutrition labels, you are in a better position to make healthful choices.”
With a little effort, consumers can enter the holiday season with renewed focus and a drive to prioritize holistic health.