Monday Medical: Happy, healthy holidays to you |

Monday Medical: Happy, healthy holidays to you

Lisa A. Bankard

Who would have thought you could fight cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke — with a fork?

Many people don't know it, but one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from these diseases is to eat a healthy diet.

So, how do the holidays figure into this healthy-eating goal? Do you find it difficult to eat healthy foods at this special time of year? If so, you are not alone.

Most people find it challenging to resist pecan pie topped with whipped cream, buttery mashed potatoes, homemade fudge and other goodies that abound during this season. Unfortunately, some of the holidays' best-tasting and favorite delicacies are high in saturated fat, sugar and calories.

The good news is you don't have to sabotage your healthy eating plan. Nor do you have to give up your favorite foods to stay on track. You can celebrate the holidays by selecting foods that are nutritious and delicious.

If you like to host holiday gatherings, choose low-fat recipes. Most likely, your guests will appreciate the calorie savings as much as you will.

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Here are some meal modifications to try:

■ Remove the skin from the turkey before putting it on the table.

■ Make a fresh cranberry sauce low in sugar.

■ Season sweet potatoes with orange juice instead of butter.

■ Leave the butter dish in the kitchen.

■ Use evaporated skim milk instead of higher-fat cream in baked goods, sauces and soups.

■ Use low-fat cooking methods such as roasting, baking, broiling, steaming or poaching.

■ Limit deep-fat frying and sautéing in a lot of oil, butter and margarine. Use a cooking spray, broth or water to sauté meats.

■ Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

■ Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil. Avoid trans fats found in many margarines and baked goods.

Finally, beware of "portion distortion." Cut your portions in half so you can enjoy your favorite holiday dish without overstuffing yourself.

Use these visuals to judge a normal portion size:

■ One-half cup of fruit or vegetables is about the size of your fist.

■ A medium apple is the size of a baseball.

■ A 3-ounce portion of meat, fish or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.

■ A single-serving bagel is about the size of a hockey puck.

■ 1 1/2 ounces of cheese is the size of a pair of dice.

Keep in mind that restaurant portions often are two to three times larger than recommended portions. Split an entrée with a friend or save half of it for lunch the next day. Have an appetizer with side salad or soup as your main course or try the appetizer alone.

With end-of-the-year work deadlines, busier schedules and other challenges, you may find yourself thinking you should just ditch your daily exercise program and resume your routine after the New Year. Think again. Not only can exercise help metabolize the extra calories you may be picking up, but it also can help you combat stress, sleep better and keep your immune system strong.

Instead of completely abandoning your exercise routine, just cut back a little. Doing something consistently is better than doing nothing at all. Go for a walk or a snowshoe trek. Enjoy sledding, ice skating or skiing. Enjoy the outdoors.

For many, Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, which can include extra parties, travel, different routines and special holiday foods. Unless we eat mindfully, it's easy to end up with extra pounds to start off the new year.

Treating your taste buds should not take priority over savoring the season and what it means to you. Focus on giving "thanks" and "giving" to others. For your health, slow down, eat less, enjoy your special treats and keep moving.

Lisa A. Bankard is director of Wellness and Community Education at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at or 970-871-2500.