Step away from the cheese dip

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:06

Holiday parties are opportunities for healthful eating - if you know where to look

Holiday parties and dinners can throw off your healthy lifestyle goals. For many of us, more than half of annual weight gain occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Some studies say the average American puts on up to 5 to 7 pounds in these few weeks.

The American Heart Association offers some simple tips to keep you on track: limit portions and empty calories, such as those in alcoholic drinks, and, before tucking into less healthy options, fill up on fruits and vegetables. Keep dessert temptations to small samples of your favorites instead of full servings, and eat mindfully to enjoy every morsel.

Many of the traditional foods served during the holidays can be healthy. The trick is to not load on the butter, cream and sugar.

Of course, exercise is critical to weight management and overall health. The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on most days of the week. A brisk walk before or after meals can help burn those extra calories.

Free guide includes recipes and resources

The AHA is offering its annual Holiday Healthy Eating Guide to help people navigate the holiday season. The 13-page free guide includes tips, recipes and resources, and is available free online at

The AHA recommends making small but impactful lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease and stroke, the nation's number one and four killers. Studies show that more than 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, exercising 30 minutes most days of the week and eating healthier.

More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the AHA, so getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is important during the holidays and year round. The American Heart Association recommends using the personal calorie calculator at to first determine your daily calorie intake. The simple questionnaire offers calorie goals based on your height, weight, age and activity levels.

Also knowing how many calories are in favorite holiday menu items can help manage weight. The AHA offers healthy substitutions in the guide as well as healthy recipes.