The holidays are a time to be around friends, family, and of course, food. But many of our holiday treats and dishes can be high in calories but low in the nutrients our bodies need.
One way to resist unhealthy sweets and foods this season is to incorporate more protein into every meal while cutting back on refined carbs and fat. You’ll feel more full, so you’re likely to eat less and cut down on unhealthy snacking.
The Role of Protein
Protein is important because it helps you build and maintain lean muscle mass. It is vital to a healthy diet, as it’s one of the essential building blocks for many cellular components in your body. Protein also helps to make meals more satisfying. Including some protein at every meal and snack helps satisfy hunger over the course of the day and can help ensure that individual protein needs – which vary depending on body size and composition, age, and activity level – are met.
Protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, and seeds also supply B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. So when you’re adding protein while cutting back on empty calories, you’re getting the benefit of extra nutrients your body needs.
How to Resist Overeating During the Holidays
Here are some ways to swap in protein as you navigate all the holiday temptations:
Have a Healthy, Protein-Rich Breakfast
Start the day with a high-protein breakfast – about 25 grams should do it. Instead of cereal, try a meal replacement shake or oatmeal with protein powder blended in. Studies suggest that a protein-rich breakfast not only helps keep you full until lunch but may even help curb your intake over the course of the day*.
Incorporate Nutritious Snacking
Try not to head to a holiday event with an empty stomach. Have a substantial snack prior, such as some plain Greek yogurt or nonfat cottage cheese with fruit, or a protein snack bar before you leave.
You can also bring some portable with you, such as a handful of unsalted nuts, a protein bar, or a piece of low-fat string cheese, just in case.
Be Selective About Holiday Food
When looking at your holiday meals, there are some ways to keep them on the healthy side. For your entrée, look for lean sources of protein such as grilled fish, poultry, lean meats, or vegetarian sources such as beans and lentils, and go easy on high-calorie sauces and gravies.
You may want to cut down (or out) the starchy sides, such as white rice, bread, mashed potatoes, and white-flour pasta. Instead, put more vegetables and salads on your plate, and look for protein-rich beans and grains such as lentils, quinoa, brown rice, or whole-grain pasta. And watch your ‘liquid calories’ as holiday beverages can rack up a lot of calories. A glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime feels festive but is calorie-free and can help you stay hydrated.
You don’t have to completely avoid your favorite holiday foods. One trick is to skip the ordinary treats you can eat year-round, like chocolate chip cookies, and instead, enjoy small portions of the special treats you associate with the holidays, like gingerbread.
And don’t forget to keep up (or begin!) your exercise routine – you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll look great in your holiday best.