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How can I stick to a heart-healthy diet at holiday parties?

The major issue around the holiday season in regards to heart problems is the sodium content in our food. On meal-based holidays like Thanksgiving, there’s a significant increase in sodium intake compared to what we normally eat. This increase in sodium has pretty significant ramifications, especially for heart failure management. People can become decompensated due to that increased sodium, and I’ve seen a huge spike in hospital admissions around the holidays because of this. Try to keep your sodium intake, especially if you have documented heart failure, at less than 2.5 grams, give or take, per day.

It takes commitment to focus on your health goals. 

Don’t go hungry!
It’s important to eat at regular times throughout the day before attending your special event so you don’t go hungry. Eating small frequent meals helps keep your energy levels even, and your hunger at bay, and makes you less likely to give in to temptations. Eat a little something before attending a holiday party will help keep you satisfied. While there, remember these special events should be treated like a small frequent meal and not an eating frenzy.

Avoid portion distortion. 
Use the smallest plate available for built-in portion control. Fill your plate with healthy choices first, like fresh vegetables and salad, and lean proteins. Limit or skip foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value.

Location, location, location
Position yourself as far from the food as possible. Sitting or standing too close can be tempting and lead to overeating.

Chew, chew, chew!
It typically takes the stomach 15 to 20 minutes to signal the brain that you’ve had enough food. Savor each bite by eating slowly and allow yourself to hear when you are full. This is an important skill to learn. Skip second helpings (which could double your caloric intake) by standing away from the food, keeping yourself occupied, and enjoying the company of those around you. And stick of gum works wonders.

Fall and winter are traditionally a tough time to maintain any diet, given holiday parties. If you are managing cardiovascular disease or trying to lower your risk factors, sticking to a heart-healthy diet as much as possible even during holiday parties is important. The following tips can help you stay on track during the holidays:

  • Aim to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day—more if you can. If you make sure to fill up on your low-calorie fruit and vegetable servings for the day, it will help you avoid overeating starches (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.) and meats.
  • Never go to a party hungry. Small frequent meals (at least three) are a good way to keep yourself satisfied. If you go to a party hungry, you are more likely to eat too much.
  • When going to a party, if possible try to plan ahead and suggest to the hostess that you bring a low-calorie dish with you to help keep yourself (and others) on track.
  • At a buffet-style gathering, try filling your plate only once with a reasonable, healthy portion of food. This will keep you from absent-mindedly eating bite after bite, losing track of the total amount of food. It also helps to stand away from the food table and focus on socializing.
  • Limit alcohol. Moderation (one drink for women, two drinks for men) is important for overall health. But alcohol also provides extra calories and interferes with your ability to keep tabs on your food intake. You'll drink and eat more calories than you mean to eat. If you do choose to drink alcohol, beer and wine generally are lower in calories than spirits mixed with soda or fruit juices.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Do you dread holiday parties because of what they do to your waistline? In this video, Dr. Oz shares three tips that can help you eat, drink and be merry, and still stick to your diet.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.