You know it’s coming. That never-ending smorgasbord of family-tested recipes, desserts and all-you-can-eat cranberry sauce. While some take Thanksgiving in bite-sized portions, others dig in, parking elbow-to-elbow at the dinner table for a marathon of consumption, sampling a little taste of this and a whole lot of that.

Thanksgiving is a tradition Americans love. And while there’s no better way to gather family and friends together, it can play havoc on your heart health. In fact, the average American gains up to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and most never lose it. Multiple that by 10 to 20 years and you’ve got an obesity epidemic. Ouch.

What if there was a better way to approach this year’s Thanksgiving fun, where delicious foods and happier hearts reigned? Good news is that it can be done, and making a plan now is a great place to start.

1. Make a pact to stay active

Before you begin cooking, you’ve got to start moving. Plan to keep you and your family active every day, whether it’s taking a trip to the park, walking the dog or even raking the leaves. Exercise is good for the heart, burns off extra calories and curbs your appetite. For added impact, gift yourself 40 minutes at the gym a few days a week to release the endorphins your body needs to stay healthy and happy.

2. Include healthy substitutes for your favorite recipes

Don’t want to pass up your favorite casserole this year? No need to with smart planning. A few small tricks of the trade can take the sting out of calorie-rich foods, and no one has to know it. Try these proven substitutes:

• Roasted turkey over fried for a leaner source of protein

• Homemade dressing made with low-sodium chicken broth, plenty of fresh veggies and olive oil instead of store-bought stuffing

• Mashed potatoes with olive oil instead of butter

• Green bean casserole with reduced-fat soup, saving 40 calories per half-cup serving

• Roasted sweet potatoes brushed with oil instead of candied yams

• Vanilla, almond and peppermint instead of added sugar

• Rosemary, cloves and fresh seasonings in lieu of salt

• No sugar-added applesauce in place of butter and sugar

3. Make smarter choices at the table

If you’re not one of the cooks in the kitchen, making smart choices at mealtime can save the day. Follow these tips to keep you heart-healthy:

• Use a dessert plate so you’ll have less space to load.

• Choose skinless white turkey meat over dark turkey meat with skin to save 70 calories a serving.

• Opt for cranberry relish, loaded with antioxidants and fiber, unlike cranberry sauce that’s brimming with sugar.

• Pecan pie may offer one of the healthiest nuts for your heart, but it also delivers 503 calories per serving compared to pumpkin pie’s 316 calories.

• Fill up on flavorful non-starchy veggies like roasted Brussel sprouts, broccoli and carrots.

• Practice portion control and chew slowly to give your brain time to know you’re full.

4. Stay hydrated

It’s easy to forget you’re thirsty when company’s in town or you’re traveling. Make sure to schedule in routine water breaks to help you stay energized and feeling good. Water also aids in digestion and helps your heart work more efficiently. Still struggling to work in eight glasses a day? Try adding a splash of orange juice to each serving for a tastier sip and a pop of vitamin C.

5. Get enough sleep

The American Heart Association recommends adults get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Getting to bed early over the holidays can give you that extra time you need to wind down after a busy day. Top it off with daily exercise to help you sleep sounder.

Sources:
Healthy holiday food swaps
Yourethecure.org, The Pulse Nov. 11, 2014
Choosing healthy holiday food
Top 5 tips for a healthy holiday season
Stress and heart health

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