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Health Fusion: Tips for navigating holiday buffets

When you belly up to the holiday buffet, temptations abound. In this "Health Fusion" for NewsMD column, Viv Williams has tips from a Mayo Clinic cardiologist about how to navigate the food table without going overboard or depriving yourself of Aunt Sally's fabulous pumpkin pie.

Each and every item needs to stand out when setting a Thanksgiving table. (Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Each and every item needs to stand out when setting a Thanksgiving table. (Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

Thanksgiving spreads are true works of art and beauty. The perfectly browned turkey, mounds of mashed potatoes, stuffing from Grandma's recipe and all of the other traditional foods on display can break even the strongest willed calorie counter in attendance. My personal weakness is the gravy. I could drink it.

But, says Dr. Stephen Kopecky , a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and author of the book, " Live Younger Longer: 6 Steps to Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer, Alzheimer's and More ," you can have your pumpkin pie and eat it too. You just have to plan ahead so you don't eat too much.

"Life happens, holidays happen, all kinds of ceremonies happen," says Kopecky. "When you celebrate Thanksgiving or other holidays with friends and family, and you've been dreaming about Grandma's special potato salad for two months, go ahead and have some. But don't fill your plate with it. Make how you approach that table full of food part of your plan."

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Dr. Stephen Kopecky, Mayo Clinic cardiologist. Mayo Clinic photo

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Kopecky outlines a strategy that can help you avoid a food bender at Thanksgiving and other event. It includes four tips: survey all of the options, fill your plate with healthy foods first, don't deprive yourself and if you're the host, make healthier options easy to find.

Tip #1: Survey the food options

"Know before you go that you're going to walk around the food table and see what's there before you dig in," says Kopecky. "Check out what you've been looking forward to having, as well as the healthier options."

Tip #2: Fill your plate with healthier options first

"Once you know what's available, put some good, healthy things on your plate first," says Kopecky. "Then go for the stuff you really love. This way you're getting the things you want, as well as some healthier foods. And that means you'll eat less of the stuff that might not be as good for you."

Tip #3: Don't deprive yourself

The key is to not deprive yourself of foods you want, as that method can backfire.

"Don't deny yourself," says Kopecky. "Because when we do that, we tend to binge. All you need is a little forethought and to understand that you need to go into that holiday meal with a plan."

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Why bother trying to reign in overindulgence at the holidays? Well, if you're like me, a major act of gluttony can trigger bad habits for weeks. After all, what harm could just one more piece of pie before bed do? Other than maybe a little heartburn, probably not much. But a snack like that before bed for a week would definitely not be good.

One of the reasons some of the foods we crave are so delicious is because they contain a lot of salt. And this can be an issue for people with kidney disease, high blood pressure and heart conditions.

"Salt helps your body absorb and retain fluid and water," says Kopecky. "And, for example, maybe your heart doesn’t pump blood adequately to meet the body’s demands. If you've got a lot of extra fluid on board, and you overload the heart, it will have a harder time pumping."

The American Heart Association recommends daily intake for healthy adults be less than 2,300 milligrams, or just under a teaspoon. They're working on lowering that amount to 1,500 milligrams. That’s a little less than ¾ of a teaspoon.

Tip #4: If you're the host, make healthier options easy to find

Another part of the strategy to avoid overdoing it at the holiday buffet is geared toward the hosts of the event. If you're the one throwing the party or meal, arrange the table so that some healthy choices are in front and easy to reach.

So go ahead, have a couple bites of your favorite Thanksgiving foods. And if you have a plan, you'll be better equipped to stop at those bites and avoid overindulging.

Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at vwilliams@newsmd.com.

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Viv Williams

Related Topics: NEWSMDHEALTH FUSION
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