Have a heart-healthy holiday!

Ten tips for enjoying the season, guilt-free!

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By Dr. Michael Miller


As we approach the final weeks of the year with family gatherings, office parties, and New Year’s celebrations, we can still enjoy ourselves while practicing a healthy lifestyle. Here are 10 tips that show you how:

  1. Say hello to the (right) hors d’oeuvres. Among the most heart healthy starters are raw vegetables, particularly broccoli and cauliflower because of their high fiber content. Among the most heart healthy dips are hummus, which contains good monounsaturated fats.
     
  2. Stick to the good carbs. Eating simple carbohydrates doesn’t make us feel as full as eating fat, so if you are overzealous in avoiding fats you may overindulge in total calories. When snacking, stick with carbs that contain vitamins and fiber (apples) rather than those without nutritional value (pretzels). Consider healthy fat sources including avocados, walnuts, and almonds.
  3. Choose fish over red meat. Include fish in your year-end celebration menus. Cold-water fish contain protective omega-3s, which have been shown to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death. Among your best choices are wild salmon, sardines, and herring (without the cream sauce). Whatever meat you choose, have the gravy or sauce served on the side and limit table salt.
  4. Choose by color. The more colorful the vegetable, the more heart-protective antioxidants contained within. Steaming is better than using the microwave for preserving nutrients. However, over-steaming or boiling will remove many of these heart healthy elements.
  5. Hold the bagels. The average bagel will cost you more than 200 calories, even before the dousing of an additional 50 to 100 calories of butter or cream cheese. If you like lox, keep in mind that about 75 percent of the protective omega-3 fats in salmon are lost when converted into lox by the smoking process.
  6. Be a choosy drinker. Red wine and dark beer contain more protective antioxidants or flavonoids than other alcoholic beverages. You can get maximum heart protection with up to 1 ounce of alcohol daily, the equivalent of two 4-ounce glasses of wine, a 12-ounce bottle of beer, or two shots of spirits.
  7. Don’t come to the party starving. You’ll overindulge. Eating one meal a day slows down the rate at which we burn calories. That is especially important to keep in mind as we age, because our metabolic requirements are reduced by an average of five calories daily. Therefore, eat frequently throughout the day but in small to moderate quantities.
  8. Have your chocolate and eat it too! That is, if it’s dark. Pure dark chocolate contains a very high amount of catechins (a heart healthy antioxidant). Enjoy it with black grapes and wash it down with a beverage containing natural cocoa powder or tea, additional excellent sources of these heart healthy compounds.
  9. Get in your exercise. Try to work off those extra holiday-season calories. While aerobic activity has been emphasized for maintaining cardiovascular health, recent studies show that walking is also quite effective. One fun way to keep track of your daily activity is to purchase a pedometer. There are about 2,000 steps per mile. Take 6,000 to 10,000 steps daily to maintain heart health.
  10. Have a hearty laugh. Very few things in life are better than a good laugh, and it turns out that laughing heartily is good for the heart. One recent study even demonstrated that laughing during mealtime reduces the surge in blood sugar levels. May you enjoy the lighter side of life with family and friends this holiday season. CD


De-stress your Christmas!
Advent and Christmas should be joyful, prayerful times, but it seems that each year we find ourselves harried and overwhelmed. Here are a few tips to keep the holidays a bit saner:

  • Prioritize. What are the things you really want to accomplish this season? Is it daily Mass? Spending more time with the kids? Whatever it is, don’t schedule it around whatever other activities arise; set it in the calendar first.
  • Send a family letter. Instead of laboring over individual Christmas cards, type a letter that you can print or copy multiple times on attractive holiday paper to send to friends and family.
  • Wrap wisely. Spread out the work by wrapping each present as you buy it.
  • Buy in bulk. Shop from catalogs or online at sources like amazon.com that carry a variety of goods. You can shop without crowds and long lines, save on gas, and often get free shipping to boot!
  • Work the one-gift wonder. Simplify by giving everyone you can the same gift, whether it’s a calendar of artistic photos you’ve taken, a CD of Christmas songs sung by your family, or a batch of homemade jelly.
  • Arrange a Secret Santa. Make an agreement among family and friends to do a Secret Santa gift exchange, so that instead of buying for multiple people, everyone buys for just one.
  • Learn how to say “no.” When you get invited to a holiday event or asked to help with a project, don’t reply right away. Instead, say, “Thank you very much for the invitation. Let me check my calendar and get back to you later this week.” This gives you a breather to consider whether you really want to — and can afford to — commit.
  • Save money by getting creative. You don’t have to spend money when giving a gift. You could, for instance, give homemade coupons (“good for one homecooked meal,” “good for one girls’ movie night at my house”). A little housecleaning might also turn up perfectly good items others would enjoy: Maybe a niece would love the jewelry you no longer wear, or Grandma might like the bathrobe you bought but never used.
  • Take care of yourself. We tend to skimp on sleep, nutrition, and exercise when we’re busy, but these are crucial things we shouldn’t sidestep, especially in flu season. Take steps to stick to them, such as setting an alarm to remind you to prepare for bed, cooking in bulk on the weekends for the upcoming week, or exercising in short, 15-minute increments.
  • Go easy at work. If you buy for colleagues, opt for a group gift such as a large box of chocolates or baked goods.
  • Schedule downtime. To help avoid filling your December calendar with too many commitments, schedule downtime for yourself and your family. When someone asks you to attend an event during that time, don’t be afraid to say that you have other plans. Your scheduled downtime is just as important as another engagement!

    — Julie Rattey

 

Dr. Michael Miller

Dr. Miller is director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For information, call 800-492-5538.