Yes! It’s the festive season, everyone is excited, and there’s so much to eat. Before you start consuming all the food in the ‘holiday spirit’, let me remind you not to throw caution in the wind. As a cardiologist, one of the most important questions I get asked this season: “what should I not eat this festive season?” Truth be told, there can never be a perfect answer to a heart-healthy diet question as they are quite controversial – should it be low carb? Plant-based, vegan, mediterranean, gluten-free, DASH? The list goes on, and each diet has its advocates. But there are some guidelines that can help you.
Here are the tips I give to my patients who are looking for a heart-healthy diet this festive season (and by diet, I mean the type of foods you usually eat, not restrictive eating to lose weight):
Eat at home
Who has time to cook during the festive season? You do! Cooking at home can be quicker than going out, and the benefits are indisputable. Better quality food, lower cost, a stronger connection with loved ones, and a healthier weight are just some of the benefits of home cooked meals.
You don’t have to be a master chef to put good quality, nutritious food on your table. Start with one or 2 “go-to” meals that you enjoy and can prepare quickly.
Eating heart-healthy is not one size fits all, nor is it written in stone. For most of us, it’s a constant process of trying new things and judging the response. To make things easier, you can start with one of the major diets (i.e., a good home meal that you love)
There is no one “right” diet for everyone
The beauty and challenge of medicine is how different we are and how the same treatment can lead to different responses in different people. A medication that saves one person’s life can cause a life-threatening side effect in another.
The same principle applies to diet. While one person may have amazing results with a certain diet, you may not have those same results. And just because a diet doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean you failed, it may just mean that the diet wasn’t right for you.
Enjoy every meal with your loved ones
Even if we had a research that proved that one diet is best (and we don’t), if you won’t eat it, it won’t do you any good. We don’t do well when we feel deprived, and if you’re eating food you don’t like, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Find a healthy eating style you love and that loves you back. There are too many great-tasting and healthy options to settle for food you don’t like.
Avoid highly processed foods
I know it’s hard to say this, but trust me, it’s an achievement during this season. If you only follow one of these 6 rules, make it this one. About 70% of the food we consume is highly processed foods and it’s a major contributor to the obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure epidemics.
What are highly processed foods? There are several definitions, but here is one I like. Processed food is manufactured food, typically high in added sugars (like high fructose corn syrup) or refined grains (for example, white flour or white rice). These foods often contain preservatives and other chemicals.
Add vegetables and other plant-based foods
Your cardiologist is always right: eat your vegetables. Every reputable expert recommends that vegetables and other plant-based foods should be a big part of your diet.
This doesn’t mean your food should become boring, or that you should opt for only vegetables, but the simple act of getting plant-based foods into most of your meals can do wonders for your heart health.
Portion size still works
Even if it’s healthy food, eating too much is still, well, too much! Slowing down, eating mindfully, and serving your meals on smaller plates are all proven strategies to decrease the amount you eat without feeling like you are going hungry.
As long as you follow these 6 tips, you will be able to find your best heart-healthy diet! Don’t forget the most important thing is to enjoy the season with family and loved ones.