Holiday Eating-How to Stay Heart-Healthy

Think the holidays are a great excuse to ditch your heart-healthy diet?  Think again! Although most holiday foods are not super heart-healthy (they often contain unhealthy fats, and lots of sugar and sodium), there are ways to enjoy your favorite dishes while maintaining your heart health.  Simply learn how to make holiday foods more heart-healthy and how to budget indulgences into your diet. 

Top 3 Tips for Holiday Heart-Health

  • Amp up the exercise! Stay active and even increase your workouts, in length or intensity. During the holidays, exercise is even more important to burn off extra calories from party foods and desserts.
  • Plan healthier holiday meals. If you're hosting the family gathering, you have a bit of control over the foods you serve. See our tips below for making holiday foods more heart-healthy.
  • Be a heart-smart party guest. Make a game plan before hitting holiday parties to budget your holiday food intake. See our tips below for how to do it.

Make Holiday Meals More Heart-Healthy

  • Skip the cheese platter appetizer. Instead, offer guests a selection of high-fiber crackers and raw veggies to dip into hummus or low-fat dressing.
  • Cut the sodium in half. Reduce the amount of salt you add to recipes; season with herbs and spices or flavored vinegars to add interest instead.
  • Trim the fat. Instead of butter, cook with healthy vegetable oils such as olive or canola. If a recipe calls for heavy cream or whole milk, use low-fat or skim milk instead. When baking, applesauce is a healthy substitute for butter.
  • Go whole grain. Use half white flour, half whole-wheat flour in your Christmas cookies and make stuffing with whole-wheat bread crumbs and extra veggies.
  • Serve lean meats. Look for "round," "loin" or "chuck" cuts of meat (healthiest) and avoid "prime" cuts (high in fat). For dishes with ground beef, use half ground sirloin and half ground turkey or chicken breast.
  • Sweeten without sugar. Use a low-calorie sugar substitute or flavored extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor to baked goods. Instead of chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries  or cherries.

How to Be a Heart-Smart Party Guest

  • Don't go to a party hungry. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and lunch before heading to a dinner party. If you go to a party hungry, your willpower will be low and you're likely to eat too much of the wrong sorts of foods.
  • Mix up your mixed drinks. If you're enjoying cocktails, make sure they are made with low- or no-sugar mixers. Alternate an alcoholic beverage with a full glass of water to reduce calories and fill your stomach.
  • Cut the eggnog. If you can't entirely cut out this heavy holiday beverage, dilute full-strength eggnog with half low-fat or skim milk. You'll be able to enjoy the flavor with less of the fat.
  • Bring a healthy dish. Volunteer to bring an item to the meal that you know is a healthy option. The hostess will appreciate the help!
  • Fill your plate with fruits and veggies. Instead of heaping servings of heavy starches (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.), fill up with healthy sides like fresh fruit salads and roasted Brussels sprouts or steamed broccoli. 
  • Walk away from the buffet. If food is served buffet-style, make sure you fill your plate only once with reasonable, healthy portions. After you're done eating, avoid gathering around the food table to prevent casual grazing.
  • Don't be a turkey. Opt for light meat over the fattier dark meat of a bird. Be careful to only take a small spoonful of dressing (it's a side, not a main dish). And by all means, resist the temptation to drown everything in gravy! 
  • Split dessert. Find a friend or family member to share a slice of pie, cake or other holiday treat to cut your indulgence in half.

Get more tips for surviving the holidays from the American Heart Association. Download their Holiday Healthy Eating Guide (PDF).

Source content for this article was provided by Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions and the American Heart Association. Learn more at and

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