Moderation is Key to Holiday Heart Health November 18, 2011

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The holidays are quickly approaching, which means parties, celebrations and lots and lots of food. But that doesn't mean you should take a holiday from healthy living.

"If you face the holidays with a healthy mindset, you'll have a higher chance of success," says Dr. Caitlin Giesler, a cardiologist with the Seton Heart Institute. "It's important to make good choices - especially during the holidays - to maintain heart health."

Food is one of the biggest pitfalls of the holiday season. Between office parties, family gatherings and other celebrations, foods high in fat and calories abound. "It's O.K. to eat some of these foods, but it's important to do so in moderation," explains Dr. Giesler. "Pick one day when you want to indulge - Thanksgiving dinner or the office holiday party - and stick to that plan."

Eat a healthy snack or dinner before attending parties or take a piece of fruit to snack on. "Fruit is portable. Most people don't think to do it, but you can carry fruit with you almost anywhere," adds Dr. Giesler.

Alcohol, too, should be consumed in moderation. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two for men.

Avoid sweets since these contain only empty calories. "You really can't exercise enough to compensate for over indulging. The average person burns 100 calories with 10 minutes of exercise - that's one cookie," she explains.

Holiday travel also can be an obstacle to healthy eating. Dr. Giesler advises choosing fresh fruits and vegetables when possible and avoiding fast foods, especially french fries. "The salt and calorie load in fries is astronomical and bad for your heart," she adds.

"The most important thing to remember is that if you fall off the wagon, all you have to do is get right back on. Don't beat yourself up and don't feel guilty. Just start again," says Dr. Giesler.

Practical Tips for Dining Out

  • Chew gum while you wait for your food to keep yourself from eating tortilla chips or bread.
  • Restaurant entrees are oversized - split one with your dining partner or order an appetizer for your meal.
  • Don't use the salt shaker.
  • Ask for oil and vinegar with your salad or dressing on the side.
  • Plan ahead - view the restaurant's menu online instead of waiting until you are hungry to decide.

Dr. Caitlin Giesler, Cardiology
Seton Heart Institute

Dr. Giesler attended medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where she spent much of her time researching atherosclerosis, eventually presenting her work at the American Heart Association. She completed her residency and fellowship in Cincinnati, Ohio. During her fellowship, Dr. Giesler pursued research on heart failure in women and evaluation of cardiac biomarkers in hospitalized patients.

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