(BPT) - Sweet treats at work. Extravagant family dinners. Buffets brimming with holiday indulgences. There's plenty to savor this time of year, and it doesn't have to lead to a bigger waistline.
Licensed naturopathic doctor Dr. Aimée Gould Shunney believes the holidays are a time to enjoy good food and time with family and friends. With her expert insight, you can make smart eating decisions while avoiding the most notorious food traps of the holiday season.
Avoid: Eating holiday sweets to satisfy hunger
Eat: Proteins followed by just a bit of dessert
'Many of us don't cook and we simply show up to the party hungry, craving something sweet,' says Shunney. 'My suggestion is to have some dessert … after you have proper sustenance. Make sure you eat regularly throughout the day. Keeping your blood sugar stable will help you make good choices when you get to the party. Be sure to have plenty of high quality protein and fat, like fish, meat, beans, nuts and seeds, as well as fiber, so any sugar you do eat takes longer to metabolize. And then, since you will be sated, you can have a small portion of your favorite dessert. It's a win-win.'
Avoid: Meat and fatty main dishes
Eat: Flavorful and festive fish as a main course
'Fish contains the essential long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA that are so helpful for a healthy stress response, for blood sugar balance, for mood, and for heart health. Who doesn't need an extra dose of that at the holidays?' says Shunney. 'The truth of the matter is most people rarely eat fish often enough - at least once a day - to get a therapeutic dose of EPA and DHA. Supplementing with two to four caps daily of Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega or Algae Omega, is an excellent way to supplement fish in the diet and ensure the myriad health benefits associated with long chain omega-3s.'
Avoid: Overindulging on chocolate goodies
Eat: Healthier alternatives that use raw cocoa powder
'Sugar cravings are often a sign of low blood sugar,' Shunney says. 'It's your body screaming for quick energy. But remember, while something sweet may confer a quick energy burst, it will also drop you on your bottom sooner than you can say, 'Oops! I did it again.''
Shunney suggests eating protein or opting for a healthier chocolate alternative like Chocolate Avocado Mousse. (Recipe by Chef Jenny Brewer at www.nourishingnutrition.com)
3 dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for at least 10 minutes
2 large ripe avocados
1/2 cup raw cacao or cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Pulse dates in a food processor until broken down, as close to a paste as you can get them. Add avocados, chocolate, and vanilla and puree until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Note: taste and add more cocoa and dates if desired. Serve with fresh berries and a few crushed nuts for crunch.
Avoid: Eggnog, holiday cocktails and other high calorie drinks
Eat: Water or unsweetened juice mixed with mineral water
Shunney suggests: 'Water, water, water - not very festive, but it really is the best thing to drink for your mood and metabolism. Additionally, a bit of unsweetened juice with sparkling water is a perennial non-alcoholic favorite that feels a bit more special when toasting and doesn't overload you with sugar and empty calories.'
Avoid: Eating everything at a holiday buffet
Eat: Your favorites surrounded by veggies and protein
'Take small amounts of your favorites, otherwise you'll be miserable and overeat everything else,' says Shunney. 'Then surround those with veggies and protein. Ideally, you should have about 1/4 of your plate be protein and 1/2 to 3/4 of your plate be veggies, and no more than 1/4 of your plate be starch. It's more doable than you think - especially if you allow yourself to have small amounts of the things you love.'
Avoid: Baking with tons of sugar and refined flour
Eat: Baked goods with smart sugar and grain substitutes
'Recipes always call for way more sugar than needed, so do some research or experiment with cutting sugar in half,' Shunney says. 'You can also sweeten with fruit, fruit juice, dates or coconut sugar for added nutrition and to keep the sugar and calories down. Substituting whole grains for refined grains is an excellent way to add fiber and vitamins, and adding whole nuts or using crushed nuts as crusts is a great way to add good quality fat to stabilize blood sugar.'