Yes! It’s the holiday season, everyone is excited, and there is plenty to eat. Before you start eating all the food “in the holiday spirit,” let me remind you not to be careful in the wind. As a cardiologist, one of the most important questions I get asked this season is: “What should I not eat this holiday season?” Truth be told, there can never be a perfect answer to the heart-healthy diet question because it is so controversial – should it be low carb? Vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, gluten-free, dash? The list goes on, and every diet has its proponents. But there are some tips that can help you.
Here are the tips I give to my patients who are looking for a heart-healthy diet this holiday season (and by diet I mean the type of foods you usually eat, not restrictive food to lose weight):
Eating at home
Who has time to cook during the holiday season? you are doing! Cooking at home can be faster than going out of it, and its benefits are indisputable. Better food quality, lower cost, stronger communication with loved ones, and a healthy weight are just some of the benefits of home cooked meals.
You don’t have to be a good chef to put good quality nutritious food on your table. Start with one or two “go to” meals that you enjoy and can prepare quickly.
Heart-healthy eating isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither is it written in stone. For most of us, it’s an ongoing process of trying new things and judging the response. To make things easier, you can start with one of the main diets (for example, a good home-cooked meal that you like)
There is no one “correct” diet for everyone
The beauty and challenge of medicine lies in how different we are and how the same treatment can lead to different responses in different people. A drug that saves one person’s life can cause life-threatening side effects in another.
The same principle applies to diet. While someone may get amazing results with a certain diet, you may not get the same results. And just because the diet didn’t work for you, doesn’t mean you failed, it could just mean the diet wasn’t right for you.
Enjoy every meal with your loved ones
Even if we have research that proves that one diet is best (and we don’t), if you don’t eat it, it won’t do you any good. We don’t do well when we feel deprived, and if you eat food you don’t like, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Find a healthy eating pattern that you love and that will love you back. There are plenty of healthy and great-tasting options to take in the foods you don’t like.
Avoid processed foods
I know it’s hard to say, but believe me, it’s an achievement during this season. If you only follow one of these six rules, make it one. About 70% of the food we consume is highly processed foods and is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, and epidemics of hypertension.
What are highly processed foods? There are many definitions, but here’s the one I like. Processed foods are processed foods, usually high in added sugars (eg, high-fructose corn syrup) or refined grains (eg, white flour or white rice). These foods often contain preservatives and other chemicals.
Add vegetables and other plant foods
Your cardiologist is always right: Eat vegetables. Every reputable expert recommends that vegetables and other plant foods be a large part of your diet.
This doesn’t mean that your food has to become boring, or that you should only choose vegetables, but the simple act of including plant-based foods in most of your meals can do wonders for your heart health.
Portion size still works
Even if it’s healthy food, eating a lot is still, well, a lot! Slowing down, eating carefully, and serving your meals on smaller plates are all proven strategies to reduce the amount you eat without feeling hungry.
As long as you follow these six tips, you will be able to find the best heart-healthy diet! Do not forget that the most important thing is to enjoy the season with family and loved ones.
photo from photography Askar Abayev From Pixels