By Jodi Newcombe, MD

This time of year, the holidays are just around the corner. While things look differently due to the pandemic, we could all benefit from safely maintaining our connections to family and friends, especially as holiday traditions approach.

While we may be gathering in smaller groups outside, virtually, or have our faces covered for the protection of ourselves and others, these connections to loved ones are crucial to our overall wellbeing. So too is another, often central element of many holiday traditions—what we eat and how we celebrate. Delicious, but sometimes unhealthy, food can be the norm, and knowing a few tips could help us balance out the celebratory meals, deserts, and snacks that often accompany the holidays.

While it can be tempting to wait until the new year to tackle a healthy eating resolution, incorporating healthy lifestyle modifications now could help set us all up for year-round wellness.

Post-meal stroll: After a meal, try to go for a walk down the street or around the neighborhood. It’s a better alternative than a post meal nap—no matter how inviting our couches may seem. Research has found that taking a walk about 15 minutes after a meal may improve digestion and blood sugar control. Tip: Consider having a warm tea to savor when you reach your destination.
Wet your whistle: While it’s important to remain adequately hydrated throughout the day, drinking 1-2 glasses of water a half hour prior to eating does more than ward off possible dehydration or headaches. Research has shown that it also helps curb your appetite.

Getting your greens: Try to incorporate new exciting vegetables in your meal prep routine to provide variety in the healthy options on your plate. Ideally, fiber rich greens or veggies should encompass 50 percent of your plate. Dietary fiber, which is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can provide many benefits, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Tip: Recently I have been experimenting by roasting seasoned broccoli, eggplant, purple cauliflower, lentils, and local squash. Consider supporting local and going to your nearby farmers market.

Don’t be salty: If you ever wondered why your socks indented your legs, your blood pressure increased, or your hands were swollen the next day after a tasty meal, consider reflecting on your salt intake. The suggested salt intake in a healthy person is no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. To put it in perspective, a serving of holiday stuffing and macaroni and cheese can surpass the suggested daily maximum.

According to the American Heart Association, because the average American eats so much excess sodium, even cutting back by 1,000 mgs a day can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. Tip: For meal preparation, consider using flavorful herbs and low sodium spice alternatives to make a reduction in sodium intake easier to swallow. I also recommend avoiding boxed recipes with high sodium content.

Bigger is not always better: Try to consciously monitor your portion sizes and limit carbohydrates, sugars, and greasy foods to less than 25% of your plate. Protein intake should equate to a portion the size of your palm. If you’re still hungry, drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes before getting seconds. Tip: Use smaller plates and serving spoons to help achieve portion control goals, because our eyes truly are usually bigger than our stomachs.

Adding post meal exercise, increasing daily water intake, incorporating more vegetables, limiting salt, and monitoring portion sizes are easy ways that we all can make a little difference for ourselves and others. As one of Mercy’s newest primary care providers, I want to remind you to set up your annual physical prior to the holidays. Ensuring your blood pressure is at target, cholesterol panel is checked, and preventative health goals are met will start your holidays off right and set you on the right path for a healthier 2021.

Dr. Jodi Newcombe is a primary care physician at Northern Light Mercy Primary Care located at 385 Route One in Yarmouth.