Lightening Up Your Holidays

Americans steadily gain an average of .4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives, according to research, and it’s likely that the time of year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s may be to blame. While it may just seem like a little bit each year, the annual weight gain can slowly creep up and eventually cause some health concerns by putting you at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes. 

So, rather than planning to “diet” after the New Year, why not start new holiday traditions that focus on staying active and eating well the whole holiday through.


Try one of my tips for lightening up your holidays:

Start the day out strong. Anticipation of food restriction only sets you up for disaster. So rather than skipping breakfast and lunch to “save up” for your holiday dinner, eat balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. Fill up on a nutritious breakfast that includes a serving of whole grains, protein and fruit or veggies to help quell hunger pangs later on. And before heading out to your dinner party, enjoy a healthy serving of a fiber-filled food, such as fresh fruit, nuts or vegetables with hummus dip. A growling stomach can derail your best healthy intentions.

More socializing, less talking. Remember, holiday parties are about good conversation, reuniting with friends and family, and sharing laughter and cheer — not just about camping at the food table where the calories are waiting. Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus.

Give cheers for your good health! Skip the sugar-loaded cocktails or spiked eggnog, which can often rake in more calories than a piece of pumpkin pie. Instead, sip on water throughout the evening and enjoy a glass (one 5-oz. glass for women, and two for men) of red wine for a healthy plant-powered dose of polyphenols.

Keep it moving! This is not the time of year to put off exercise. And every little bit adds up. Try to squeeze in any additional activity throughout the day. Talk a walk with your family to look at Christmas lights, wrap gifts standing up, park your car at the end of the lot, take the stairs. You’ll gain more energy, improve your stress level, and also help burn off some of those extra holiday calories.

Set the example. Offer to bring a delicious, healthy dish to your next gathering. Bring a vegetable platter, homemade bruschetta, or your favorite seasonal salad (such as the one below) for a dish you can feel good about eating.

Beet and Pomegranate Seed Salad

Recipe by Sharon Palmer, RD

Makes 4 servings (about 9 cups)

My husband’s Swedish heritage has brought me an appreciation for beets, a somewhat undervalued vegetable that many chefs have rediscovered recently. This glistening ruby salad highlights beets and other winter plant foods. It’s certainly sophisticated enough for your holiday table and beyond. The compounds responsible for beets' deep red hue, called betalains, are anti-inflammatory, too.

• 4 cups packed mixed baby greens
• 2 cups packed assorted micro-greens
• 2 cups sliced baby beets, cooked and chilled
• 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
• 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 garlic clove, minced


  1. Arrange the baby greens in a salad bowl or on a platter. Top with the micro-greens.
  2. Arrange the beets on top of the micro-greens and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and walnuts.
  3. Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, black pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and serve immediately.

Note: If you don’t have time to cook fresh beets for this recipe, use drained canned beets (preferably with no added salt) or refrigerated cooked beets, which are available in many supermarkets.

Nutrition Information per serving (about 2-1/4 cups): Calories 152; carbohydrate 18 g; fiber 3 g; protein 3 g; total fat 9 g; saturated fat 1 g; sodium 160 mg. Star nutrients: Vitamin A (31% DV), vitamin C (34% DV), manganese (16% DV).

Sharon Palmer
Sharon Palmer, RD, is a Southern California-based registered dietitian and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Read her blog, The Plant-Powered Dietitian and follow her on Facebook.