University of Alabama nutritionist offers tips for healthy holiday eating

Pecan and pumpkin pies are seen on plates at Chuck's Fish in this 2016 file photo. [Staff file photo]

Pecan and pumpkin pies are seen on plates at Chuck’s Fish in this 2016 file photo. [Staff file photo]

Eating healthy for the holidays can be a challenge as families and friends gather to indulge – and often overindulge – in their favorite foods.

But staying on a healthy track while enjoying a few delicious holiday meals isn’t impossible, said Sheena Gregg, a registered dietitian/nutritionist with the University of Alabama’s Department of Health Promotion and Wellness.

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“Certainly enjoy those holiday favorites, especially if they only come down once a year. Gregg said. “But, I would say, eat like it’s the holiday on the actual holiday versus eating that way the entire holiday season because that can really make the difference between gaining no weight at all during the holiday season or gaining a significant amount of weight.”

Staying healthy during the holidays requires a little discipline, Gregg said, and following a few tips can help people enjoy their parties or gatherings without feeling deprived during meals.

Gregg’s tips include “eating a light snack before a family gathering so you don’t arrive famished; taking time to eat your meal, which can result in taking in smaller portions; and avoiding exclusively eating refined carbohydrates (such as chips, crackers and bread).”

If you do eat refined carbohydrates, Gregg said to pair them with foods that include protein and fat, which will help you feel full and satisfied more quickly.

“Also, stay hydrated throughout the holiday season because dehydration can often mimic the feeling of hunger,” she said.

Portion control can also help holiday eaters stay healthy. Gregg says she advises her clients to use the plate planner method: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a fourth of your plate protein and a fourth of your plate starches.

“It’s important to have balance. So, making sure that you’ve got your fruits and your vegetables, you’ve got a great protein source, and making sure that you’re getting those carbohydrates on your plate,” said Gregg.

Another trap to avoid is taking a long nap after a large holiday meal. Gregg recommends staying active, especially during the holidays.

The benefits of following these tips could be felt for many years to come for you and your loved ones, she said.

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“Healthy eating helps prevent chronic diseases, it gives us better energy, it really contributes to our overall health. And it can set a really great example for our children and other people in the household when we are showing them the importance of eating an overall healthy balanced diet,” Gregg said.

Gregg, who is from Fort Payne, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree while studying nutrition at UA. She worked as a dietitian at DCH Regional Medical Center before accepting a position at UA in the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness in 2009.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: University of Alabama nutritionist has tips for healthy holiday eating