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Nutrition & Good Eating

Heart Healthy Holidays {Nutrition 365}

Heart Healthy Holidays

It’s that time of year again when we are all so excited about the holidays; the parties, the presents and the promise of a new year.  For some people, they are looking forward to a few months down south in sunny Florida, for others, skiing out west.  Many people look forward to building a snowman with their kids (or grand kids), sitting by a roaring fire, and sipping on some hot chocolate.  For me, it’s a new pair of skis, my first set of snow tires, and my Arctic Snow Boots.

One thing is for certain about the holiday season, there will not be a shortage of sweets and treats.  And while I love sweets as much as the next person, it now seems that sugar has turned into the bad guy we once assigned to fat.  As nutritional science has evolved, we’ve learned that sugar is not only bad for your health, but it’s also addictive.  Studies claim that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.

What’s more, studies now show that added sugar intake is positively related to cardiovascular disease and related mortality. 

Previous randomized clinical trials and epidemiological studies have shown that individuals who consume higher amounts of added sugar, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemias, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Most previous studies have focused on sugar-sweetened beverages but not total added sugar, and none of these studies has used nationally representative samples to examine the relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality.*

So while breaking up your relationship with sugar may leave you feeling like you’ve got a broken heart, it’s actually making your heart happier and your life longer. 

Where do sugars live?

Sugar is hiding everywhere! The biggest culprit is soft drinks, but it is also hiding in many other beverages including alcohol (especially with mixers), specialty coffee/tea drinks, “energy drinks”, and other beverages flavored with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  Most of us know that desserts like cakes, cookies, ice cream, and candy are loaded with sugar, but sugar/HFCS is also hiding in so many places you wouldn’t think to look, including many processed foods (ketchup, syrup, breads, salad dressings, and BBQ sauce- even some yogurts).

How to cut back on sugar.

The best way to control your sugar intake is to start learning how to read food labels. Look for brands that have the least added sugars (especially HFCS) or use sugar in its most natural form. Look for ingredients such as raw sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup.  Some other tips include:

Make simple changes to your diet. Instead of a muffin for breakfast have plain yogurt with fruit and nuts.  Instead of pancakes with syrup, try an omelet with veggies and cheese.  Instead of pasta, have a piece of chicken or a lamb burger with salad and homemade dressing.  Instead of regular ice cream, try Strawberry Banana Ice Cream (see recipe below).  Skip the alcoholic drink and have a tall glass of seltzer water with lime.  After you finish your meal, cut back on sweet cravings by having a cup of herbal tea, chew sugar free gum or brush your teeth. 

Stay hydrated. People often mistake thirst for hunger. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stave off a sweet tooth. If you want a little flavor, add lemon or lime wedges, oranges or cucumbers slices, strawberries, a cinnamon stick, apples, pineapple, or a drop of fruit juice.  If you like tea or coffee, get unsweetened or use a minimal amount of natural raw sugar or honey (1 teaspoon or less).

Limit alcohol.  Stick with wine, beer, spirits--plain or with water, ice, seltzer (not tonic) and limit to 1 for women/2 for men per day. 

Snack in-between meals so you won’t find yourself starving and reaching for a sugary snack because you are not prepared.  Good snack ideas include pears, oatmeal, pistachios, almonds, avocado and tomatoes, kale sautéed with olive oil and lemon juice, grapefruit, apples, sweet potatoes with coconut oil, carrots with hummus, celery with natural peanut butter, sliced banana with honey and unsweetened coconut, turkey and cheese roll up, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and pineapple, low- fat chocolate milk, low sodium tomato juice, a non- fat latte, and edamame. 

Get enough sleep. When we don’t get enough rest we tend to make poor choices and this includes what we put in our bodies.

But what about dessert? Desserts are ok! But first fill up on real food with vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates. Then enjoy some fresh fruit, poached pears, yogurt with granola, nuts or a sugar free dessert. Small portions of your favorite dessert are allowed, too, but just take one bite then put your spoon down!

Walk your way to good health.
While I do not claim to be a fitness expert, we all know exercise is good for our hearts.  The guidelines suggest 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, or 5 x 30 minute sessions.  Walking is one of the easiest ways to get out there, and if you make it part of your daily life, the 150 minutes will pass quickly.  Weight training is also highly recommended for bone health as well as improving memory and reducing risk of diseases.  Any sport that you like will be good, and it’s fun to mix it up so you don’t get bored.  My favorites include yoga, swimming, cardio machines, free weights and weight machines, cycling classes and, when I’m able to get outside, walking, tennis or skiing.  Make exercise a priority over the holidays, so you won’t miss a beat. Schedule it in your calendar like a date with your best friend…you. 

Every day is a gift, so let’s enjoy this holiday season lighter and stronger so we can jump into the New Year with a healthy heart full of love for ourselves and others.



Strawberry Banana Ice Cream

  • 2 bananas cut into 1 inch slices
  • ½ cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 tbsp. whipping cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
Directions: Place banana slices on a plate, separating each slice.  Place in the freezer overnight (or at least 2 hours).  Remove strawberries and bananas and place in food processor.  Blend until consistency of soft serve ice cream.  Add cream and vanilla and blend until smooth and well-mixed.  Transfer to a container and freeze until solid.  (Serves 2)

Lamb Burgers with Cucumber and Feta

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 tbsp. ketchup (no HFCS)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • ½ English cucumber, de-seeded and grated
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 small whole wheat pita pockets
Directions: In a large bowl, combine the lamb, garlic, ketchup, egg, scallions, and a pinch of salt.  Mix until well combined with your hands.  Form into the size of a large meatball then pat down into a patty about 2 inches in diameter.  Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Cook lamb burgers for about 5 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook around 3-4 minutes on the other side.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In a small bowl combine the cucumber, arugula, and feta cheese.  Toss and set aside.  Split open the pita and add a spoonful of the yogurt on one side, tuck in two or three of the lamb burgers, followed by the arugula mixture.  (Serves 4)
Call or email today for a free session to see if Wellness Coaching or Nutritional Counseling is right for you.

Carena Lowenthal, MS, RD, CDN
(917) 882-5033 |
Copyright © 2014, All rights reserved.

Carena Lowenthal is a Registered Dietitian and is Certified in Adult Weight Management by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a consultant to physicians and clients specializing in health and wellness, weight loss, pre- diabetes, diabetes, and heart disease.  Carena is passionate about helping people make lasting lifestyle changes for a more fulfilling, healthy, happy and complete life.



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