‘Tis the season for pumpkin and sweet potato pie, desserts galore and indulgent foods. But just because these foods are served at your friends’ and family’s homes does not mean you have to sacrifice your health to indulge in a treat here or there. Here are 10 tips from Theresa Stahl, a registered dietician and fellow for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to help you avoid the belly bulge while enjoying holiday parties and gatherings.

Stahl, who is also certified in mind/body medicine, teaches clients a system of tips to make peace with your plate.

Theresa Stahl

Be mindful of what you eat. This means “eating with intention” and “paying attention.” She says it is challenging, but doable even during the holidays. “It’s not that we do not let ourselves enjoy the delectable foods, but we want to pay special attention to the nibbles and bites we take at work or as a guest for a meal because they add up and are more significant than people realize,” Stahl said. Be choosy, since those calories add up over the season.

Pay special attention if you already have a preexisting condition such as diabetes or heart disease. “What we eat for prevention… what we eat for diabetes is how we all should be eating,” Stahl said.

Eat real, wholesome foods and drop processed foods whenever possible. “We really need to make fruit and vegetables the stars of our plate,” Stahl says. This is in line with the Mediterranean diet, which centers on at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Choose vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts.

At gatherings and parties, people tend to eat a little of everything. Stahl explained one of the most empowering statements when trying to control your eating is “I’m full.” Be courteous but you can even say, “No, thank you.” Offering to take something home for later shouldn’t offend the hosts.

“Shoot for nutrient dense foods that fill you up and satisfy your hunger without setting off underlying health issues,” Stahl says. She recommends foods that have a lot of nutrients while being low in fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. As we age, our metabolism slows down, and we don’t require as many calories to sustain us.

Use a small plate wherever possible. “Be mindful of portion sizes, and we get the most satisfaction from the first few bites. If you slow down and take the time to taste each bite, you will see that getting satisfied is easier than you might think,” she says.

Our bodies need sodium, but people tend to overdo it and that’s when the trouble sets in. “We need a very small amount…around about a quarter of a teaspoon to meet our dietary needs,” she added. Don’t use salt excessively.

Consider a healthy eating diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH diet, includes foods that can lower blood pressure and limits sodium, saturated fat and sugars. A useful resource for following these guidelines can be found at www.myplate.gov. Under this system, vegetables need to take up half of your plate. Eating in this way in combination with regular aerobic exercise might help reverse brain aging, according to a study published in the journal Neurology. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods and includes fish, seafood, poultry and dairy in moderation.

If you can’t choose between DASH and the Mediterranean diet, there’s a diet that combines both, called Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet, which can decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. That diet emphasizes green leafy vegetables, berries, snacking on nuts and skipping red meat at some meals.

For people with heart disease, she recommends eating foods with healthy fats, including food rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados, nuts and salmon. To satisfy this, eat fish twice a week.

Aside from eating right, Stahl also recommends planned and purposeful exercise, even if it’s just a walk. Physical activity, along with using these tips to keep your eating under control is paramount for good health as you age.

April Chen is a freelance writer, photographer and social media manager. She can be reached at [email protected].

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