Have a Healthy Holiday: Avoid these Health Hazards

The cooking, the shopping, the decorating, the celebrating—as you hustle and bustle your way through this holiday season, be sure to steer clear of holiday health hazards like stress, sugar, and spirits (in literally every meaning of the word). Overindulging in spirits such as that calorie-laden eggnog can eat up your daily caloric intake in just two glasses. It’s also easy to fall prey to that classic spirit of alcohol, which tempts you with the high but can leave you and your health feeling low. Most of all this holiday season, remember to nourish your emotional spirits—stop and smell the rosemary! Let the lights remind you that your world is much brighter than most, let the children’s excitement tap into your heart, and see each gift as an opportunity to spread happiness and love, which is what the holiday season is all about.

Stress

Along with the fun and festivities that fill the holiday season, most all of us are sure to experience some level of stress this time of year. Whether you’re fighting traffic or finances, wrangling kids on winter break, entertaining everyone, or shopping ‘til you drop, you may find it difficult to manage stress with such a dizzying array of demands. One significant way to help minimize holiday stress is simply knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and take active steps toward prevention and relief.

Holiday stress manifests in different ways for different people and can show up as emotional stress, psychological stress, or actual physical stress. When stressed, your body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress-related hormones. In addition, stress causes your body to burn through brain neurotransmitters at an accelerated rate, depleting you of the critical neurochemicals required to metabolize fat, modulate mood, manage stress, and generally feel well. Elevated cortisol levels, due to chronic stress or a single intensely stressful situation, can lead to a myriad of health problems including memory loss, depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue, insulin resistance, inflammation, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome.

While it’s difficult to avoid some level of stress during the holidays, you can follow a few practical tips for minimizing stress and having a holiday full of peace and joy:

  • Be flexible and realistic, and accept the fact that things don’t always happen as planned.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, especially when saying yes will make you feel overwhelmed or over-stressed.
  • Do one…thing…at…a…time. Remember that multi-tasking is the number one cause of stress for women! Take your time and breathe.
  • Plan ahead and organize. Make a list of things you need to do and designate times to get it done. Keeping track will help you stay on task and keep stress at bay.
  • Keep up healthy habits. Eat a balanced diet and watch out for stressors like caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and sugar.
  • Take care of yourself—get adequate rest and take time for yourself, even if only a few minutes each day, to relax.

The more stress management techniques you incorporate into your daily life, the easier you’ll recover from episodes of high stress. The key is balance: after periods of holiday stress—whether good or bad—take the time to replenish your body and your mind.

Sugar

From candied yams to candy canes, the holidays are stuffed with sweet and sugary temptations. While those cakes and cookies may likely show up around your waistline, it’s the effects on your lifeline that are more important to consider. Packing on a few extra pounds over the holidays isn’t just an undesirable outcome of over-indulging—it’s a potentially dangerous consequence that can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome.

With weight gain, there are two types of fat. Subcutaneous fat accumulates under the skin in the form of bumps and bulges and is relatively harmless to your health. Visceral fat—which is the fat most strongly linked with metabolic syndrome and increased cancer risk—lies deep in the abdomen and envelopes vital organs. Accumulation of visceral fat tissue is directly correlated with insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease.

Staving off those refined carbs and curbing excess calories during the holidays may do more than help you manage your midsection. Keeping off those extra holiday pounds could significantly cut your risk of diabetes and heart disease. To help you handle the holiday sugar hazard, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t go to a party hungry. Instead eat a healthy meal before you go so you’ll feel satisfied and full and be less tempted to snack on those sweet temptations.
  • When ordering out, start your meal with a salad to take the edge off your appetite and leave you less likely to overeat your main meal.
  • Be aware of what you’re eating. A good rule of thumb is that just one bite of a decadent holiday treat on average has about 100 calories.
  • Never eat while standing up! Keep a glass of sparkling water in one hand and a napkin in the other so you don’t snack haphazardly.

Spirits

Several recent studies link limited alcohol consumption with various health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers, as well as slowing the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But if you drink more than the recommended amount—no more than one drink per day for most women and no more than two drinks per day for most men—you lose all the health benefits and gain considerable health risks. With holiday parties a plenty this time of year, it’s easy to lose track in celebration and toss back one or more drinks too many.

Before grabbing another glass of your favorite seasonal spirit, consider the health consequences reported in a new study: drinking in excess of the daily dietary guidelines significantly increases the risk of metabolic syndrome. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study findings reveal that daily alcohol consumption that exceeds the recommended guidelines is associated with a 60% increase in the risk of metabolic syndrome, and binge drinking at least once a week was associated with a 51% increase in the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption negatively affect your body on the inside, but it also affects how you look on the outside. Drinking alcohol dehydrates your body and robs your skin of vital oxygen and nutrients like vitamin A that boost collagen and promote new skin cell growth. Those who imbibe regularly or excessively are more prone to skin ailments often associated with aging, like wrinkles, uneven skin tone, discoloration, and broken capillaries.

The key to avoiding the alcohol hazard this festive season is smart moderation. Limit your amount to the daily recommendation (one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men). Help curb temptation by eating a meal first and saving your cocktail for dessert. Often times the satiety of eating will help calm alcohol cravings. Or substitute the alcohol with a sparkling water and slice of lime—the effervescent bubbles can be just as fun and fulfilling!

Home for the Holidays: A Surefire Remedy

As if you didn’t have enough on your mind preparing for the holidays and trying to ward off the 5 to 7 pounds lurking in those holiday goodies, you might also be among the millions who share a slight case of holiday dread knowing that—despite your best-laid plans,–some of your kin folk can play havoc with your silent night, holy night. Rest assured that you are not the only one with an Uncle Harry who thinks Hanukah isn’t complete without a hangover, or an Aunt Gertrude who insists on dissing all the people skinnier than she is.

Or maybe your extended family isn’t a concern—it’s the ones under your roof who can get under your skin the most. How about a petulant teenager who loves to cast a black cloud over even the most lovingly planned festivity? Here’s a surefire remedy that works like a charm, because being forewarned is being forearmed. Here’s your armor: just remember HOME for the holidays.

  • Help. Not as in, “Help!” but help as in, “Here is your job.” Give the difficult people a task, like setting the table or peeling the apples—the more challenging the person the more challenging the job. “Uncle Harry, would you be a dear and put this piece of furniture together I just bought at IKEA.” Get help. Make up jobs if you need to.
  • Outside. Get outside and send them outside. Take a walk, throw a football, or check out the holiday lights. Moderate exercise raises serotonin and lifts your mood. Daylight exposure (send them out early!) does the same.
  • Manners. Mind yours and remind them of theirs. Lovingly place a copy of Emily Post on the coffee table and open it to, “Making your holiday memorable.” Model the most gracious behavior you can remember, and set the scene with your finest dishes, candles, and linens. Dress up (except for the shoes) and encourage others to do the same, they’ll act better. When others push your buttons get nicer and kinder. Don’t let someone else decide what kind of attitude you are going to have. You won’t regret doing the right thing.
  • Entertain. As much as people say they don’t like to play games and participate in entertainment, they really do! Get out the board games, Wii, karoke, cards—you name it. How about a fun game of family charades? Have everyone bring a “re-gift” (something you don’t have to buy but someone else might want) and have a fun gift exchange. Entertainment keeps folks focused on fun, not on fretting.

If you just remember this simple HOME remedy, you’re sure to have a great holiday—and so will everyone else.

How Healthy is Your Grocery Store?

Most grocery store chains have jumped on the all-natural and organic band wagon, but which stores actually deliver the freshest and healthiest foods to you? Health Magazine recently polled health experts to determine the top 10 healthiest grocery stores in the US. How healthy is your grocery store? Browse the list to find out who ranked and why!

10. Super Target These super stores offer brands like Kashi, Quaker, Sahala Snacks, and Barbara’s, plus a limited amount of organic dairy items and produce.
9. Pathmark The largest retailer of locally grown produce in the Northeast, with the company’s Live Better! And Wellness Club discounts of up to 15 percent on fresh-cut fruits and veggies.
8. Publix Super Markets The store’s own brand, Green Wise, features fresh and packaged natural and organic foods. The chain scores high for its At Season’s Peak program, which points customers to the produce that’s most in season.
7. Food Lion This chain stocks organic fruits and vegetables and has its own natural foods brand, Nature’s Place. The store’s boutique offshoot, Bloom, is leading the way for the chain with kiosks that provide nutrition information and healthy recipes.
6. Albertsons Their organic house brand, Wild Harvest, typically costs 15 percent less than name-brand organic products and excludes artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners, flavorings, and hydrogenated oils.
5. Hannaford This small chain is the largest certified-organic supermarket in the Northeast region, and its Guiding Stars nutrition-label program makes it easy to find the healthiest foods.
4. Trader Joe’s You’ll find healthy foods from all around the world here at reasonable prices, but you won’t find bad-for-you mainstream brands.
3. Harris Teeter This store boasts healthy shopping tools and a highly successful Your Wellness For Life program. With over 600 varieties of fruits and veggies, shoppers are sure to find a great selection of organic and locally owned fare.
2. Safeway Safeway is a traditional grocer, but they’ve made huge transformations with their own organic brands and locally grown produce. O Organics for packaged goods is the largest organic brand in the country.
1. Whole Foods With the whole package, it’s no wonder Whole Foods tops the list. They have an extraordinary selection of fresh conventional and organic fruit and vegetables, delicious prepared foods with healthy ingredients and clear labeling. The desserts are even pretty good for you—free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and trans fats.

Did You Know?

Adding a little zing to your cuisine with zesty spices may help ward off cellular damage associated with chronic diseases. Spices can do a lot more than just make food taste good. Research studies show that most chronic and life-threatening diseases, including those commonly associated with the aging process like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, are linked to chronic inflammation. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of several sizzling spices may be one of the keys to a longer and healthier life.

All spices yield some health benefit, but several super spices stand out. Cinnamon contains insulin-like qualities that are important for insulin signaling, glucose transport, and inflammatory response. Just ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon a day can help modulate blood cholesterol, triglyceride, and glucose levels—all associated with metabolic syndrome. Chili pepper is another spicy sensation, containing the powerful capsaicin properties that help ease congestion, boost immunity, reduce blood cholesterol, and help prevent some cancers.

The bright yellow spice of Indian cuisine offers one of nature’s most powerful punches to protect against disease. The curcumin pigment found in curry contains potent anti-inflammatory agents that help protect vital cells and tissues in the body from being attacked by damaging, disease-causing free radicals while inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines.

So be sure to spice up your palette and boost your health. Sprinkle some cinnamon on your apples and crank up your favorite cuisine with chili pepper or curry. Don’t be afraid to add lots of spice to your life because adding spice means adding health!

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