Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season from American Heart Association Free Healthy Holiday Eating Guide Available

As we prepare to gather with family and friends this holiday season, the American Heart Association (AHA) reminds us that we can make smart recipe substitutions to keep our holiday meals—and the people we love—healthier. Over-indulging in traditional holiday foods can add extra pounds to our waistlines, and increase our risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  

More than 60% of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the AHA, so getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is important during the holidays and year round. The AHA recommends making small — but impactful — lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease and stroke, the nation’s number one and four killers. Studies show that more than 80% of heart disease can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, exercising 30 minutes most days of the week and eating healthier.

The American Heart Association says the first step is to determine your daily calorie intake with an app or online calculator, then adjust your daily calories into the healthy range. A good place to start is by eating more fruits and vegetables which are low in calories and high in nutrition.

Many of the traditional foods served during the holidays can be healthy – the trick is to not load on the butter, sodium and sugar. Add color and nutrition to your plate with seasonal squash, roasted vegetables and fruit-based desserts.

All of the holiday parties and dinners can throw off your healthy lifestyle goals. The American Heart Association is offering its annual Holiday Healthy Eating Guide to help people navigate the holiday season in a healthy way. The 20-page free guide has tips, recipes and resources to help maintain a healthy lifestyle during the busy holiday season. The guide is available free online at

Party with a healthy plan in place!
The AHA recommends healthy portions, limiting the empty calories from alcohol drinks, and filling up on healthier fruits and vegetables first, before the less healthy options. Keep dessert temptations to small samples of your favorites instead of full servings, and eat mindfully to enjoy every morsel. Don’t stand near the party buffet and avoid mindless nibbling.

Plate-Up Health First
Be sure to pack your holiday meals with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, fish, skinless poultry, and plant-based side dishes and main courses.

Swap-In Healthier Choices
Substitute fat-free and low-fat dairy products for the higher fat versions, like Greek yogurt for sour cream. Use lower sodium versions of foods like broth, canned vegetables and sauces. Use whole-grain breads and pastas instead of white flour ones. Cook with unsaturated, healthier fats, and non-tropical oils like olive oil. Reduce butter intake, and eliminate trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils, often found in processed baked goods. If you choose red meats, select the leanest cuts. When it comes to poultry, light meat is lower in fat than dark. A serving size of meat is 3 oz., about the size of a deck of cards. Use herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of butter and salt.

Avoid the empty calories of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly if you are going to indulge in small samples of desserts. Here are more tips from the American Heart Association.

Baking Swaps

  • Instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored, no-sugar-added applesauce.
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitute.
  • Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.

Healthier Beverages

  • Instead of alcohol in mixed drinks, use club soda.
  • Instead of adding sugar to mixed drinks, mix 100-percent juice with water or use freshly squeezed juice, like lime.
  • Instead of using heavy cream or whole milk in dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using sugar to sweeten cider, use spices and fruit, like cinnamon, cloves and cranberries.

Of course, exercise is critical to weight management and overall health. The AHA recommends getting 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on most days of the week. Eating more? Walk more! A brisk walk before or after meals can help burn those extra calories.

To find more simple ways you and your family can eat healthier, visit

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