Features December 2016 Issue

Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet and Exercise Routine This Winter

Don’t let the holidays and cold weather get you too far off your regular eating and exercise routines. But if it happens, a healthy new year awaits.

If you routinely pack on a few pounds every winter and slip into some bad eating and exercise habits, you’re certainly not alone. But letting things get too out of hand can put your heart at risk. High-sodium foods can raise your blood pressure. Weight gain can also increase your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing diabetes. And developing bad eating and exercise habits now can carry over into the new year if you’re not careful.

heart healthy soup

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However, by following a few key steps you can maintain a healthy regimen without putting a damper on your holiday season.

The keys are “moderation, portion size and balance,” says Katherine Patton, RD, LD, a dietitian in Preventive Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.

“It is the holidays, so it’s okay to indulge, but do so in moderation,” she says. “Keep portions of high-calorie foods in check. Just take a few bites.”

She also recommends a little math when filling your plate.

“Aim to follow the plate method, which is ¼ plate of whole grain starch, ¼ plate of lean protein, and ½ plate non-starchy veggies,” Patton recommends for the winter holidays and always.

Healthier Turkey Dinner

When a big turkey dinner is on the menu, Patton recommends avoiding the skin, limiting the gravy and watching your portion size.

“Turkey is a great source of protein,” she says, adding that white meat is leaner than dark meat. “Three or four ounces is plenty to fill you up without causing a food coma.”

For side dishes, try red skin mashed potatoes with the skin on and use skim or low-fat milk. Patton recommends less butter, but for extra flavor, add low-sodium chicken broth.

Another very healthy side dish option could be roasted potatoes and veggies. Take red skin potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash, and coat in olive oil. “Add your favorite herbs and spices and then bake at high heat until veggies are soft,” Patton says. “As for stuffing, skip the sausage or use turkey sausage. Saute celery and onions in low-sodium vegetable broth, and use whole wheat or whole grain bread.”

Avoiding Winter Weight Gain

Healthy eating should, of course, be combined with regular exercise to support optimal heart health. But colder weather often drive people inside, meaning that daily walk around the neighborhood is curtailed.

“Less exercise is common, so try to make it a priority,” Patton says. “Schedule it in. Start making plans for how and where to exercise inside. Join a gym, check out some exercise DVDs, or sign up for exercise classes.”

One other winter factor can interfere with your best eating and exercising intentions. Less sunlight exposure can lead to the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And SAD can lead to overeating and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Patton adds that the stress that sometimes accompanies the holidays can also trigger overeating.

Get Ready for the New Year

If there is some overdoing it this season, Patton recommends taking steps not to let that ruin the start of 2017.

It starts with a little “spring” cleaning. “Get rid of all the leftover holiday foods and drinks,” Patton suggests. “Go grocery shopping and stock up on healthy, nutrient-rich foods.”

Don’t let any guilt get you down. Enjoy the holiday season, and then enjoy a healthy start to a new year.

heart healthy substitutions

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