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After every holiday I always have patients who put on some weight when they had been trying to take it off. While they blame the holiday, it's clear that it's not just overeating. The problem is that when they splurged on the holiday the whole idea of eating healthier went out the window. Eating well and eating healthy means there are times when you overeat – and allowing yourself to do so. It's part of life, and it's really good for you, in my opinion. The challenge of holidays is to think of them as a time to splurge on eating delicious food – not junk. This means planning.
Planning is the single most important thing you can do to eat healthier. Most people plan their holiday meals, and I bet you already have a good idea of what the menu will be for the Fourth of July. As part of eating healthier, plan that menu with better choices. Here are some guidelines:
1. Eat real food. More and more research is showing us that the more processed a food is, the worse it is for you. Make your hamburgers with fresh ground beef (not pre-made patties), but leave the hot dogs at the grocery store. It's processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and deli meats that are health issues, not fresh meats. So have a burger, some kabobs made with chunks of sirloin, barbecue chicken, grilled salmon or even a steak. A single hot dog has 185 calories, while 4 ounces of 95% lean ground beef has only about 150 calories and none of the hot dog's chemicals.
The same holds true for all the potato chips, crackers and salty snack foods. You're far better off with potato salad, three bean salad, macaroni salad and corn on the cob.
2. Put out fresh snacks. Nuts are great party snacks and we know they'll help your blood pressure and cholesterol. Fresh veggies and dip are especially easy now that most grocery stores sell bags or platters of pre-cut peppers, celery, carrots and cherry tomatoes. Make your own dips and you'll avoid all the chemicals and salt, just as you did with the hot dogs. Put out bowls of popcorn: it's super easy to make and full of fiber. Steamed and chilled artichokes are great fun to eat on a hot day, too.
3. Don't buy soda for your party. A can of soda has 9 teaspoons of sugar. You can make fantastic iced tea or lemonade with only one or two teaspoons a glass. Delicious, refreshing, and each drink has 100 fewer calories than the same amount of soda.
4. Think before you drink alcohol, and alternate your alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages, preferably water. At a party on a hot day it's easy to spend a couple hours at a party and drink more than you might want.
5. You don't have to have seconds. Stop and think about how great that food was before you head for the buffet table again. Sometimes that's all it takes for you to keep from overeating.
6. Serve fruit for dessert. There's nothing more Fourth of July than watermelon. It's great tasting and great for you, plus you can have watermelon seed-spitting contests afterward. Now that's a Fourth of July!
Remember: it's a holiday and that makes it okay to splurge with some great food. Do it, enjoy it, and don't feel guilty about it. Above all, don't let yourself think of it as getting off track. Holidays are part of a great life and part of being healthy. Enjoy them!
Here are some great recipes for your Fourth of July party:
Grilled Salmon with Caper Mayonnaise
Roasted Corn on the Cob
Red Potato Salad
Three Bean Salad
Carrot and Raisin Salad
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS