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Dealing with the Holidays When Eating for Your Heart

separator For goodness sakes, life isn't worth living if you can't indulge yourself at this time of year. Go ahead and eat those salty peanuts. Have a second helping of pie. Drink that eggnog. You only live once!"

Is this what well-meaning loved ones tell you? Is this what you tell yourself?

Not to put a damper on your holiday, but a study published in the journal Circulation in 1999 showed the death rate from heart attacks rises right after Thanksgiving and continues until the New Year, when it peaks. While colder temperatures have been associated with increased heart attack death rate, participants in this particular study lived in southern California, where the temperature rarely drops below 50 degrees.

One of the study's researchers suggested that "increased food, alcohol and salt consumption" may contribute to the higher death rate during the holidays. Doesn't this information make it seem worthwhile to try to keep yourself in control?

To face the parties, the traditional meals, the New Year's celebrations and the family get-togethers this season, keep these ideas in mind:

What you don't know can hurt you.

When you're looking at a table full of rich appetizers and desserts, it's easy to eat everything in sight if you don't know about the fat and calories the food contains. You can be fairly certain that eating generous amounts of creamy, cheesy, buttery, sugary foods is going to use up more calories than you should probably eat in a day. Red meat is high in fat and calories too. A small slice of roast beef has just over 200 calories. A slice of cheesecake has 372 calories. Just standing around the table eating chips can be a diet buster. Chips are full of saturated and hydrogenated fat. One serving, the size of a small bag, has about 160 calories.

When you look at the food, stop and think for just a moment about whether it's worth the risk to your heart. The food is gone in an instant, but the cumulative effects can have quite an impact.

Find people who will support you.

It can be tremendously helpful when you're at a party to tell at least one person that you're going to try to eat only healthy foods. Just telling that one person makes you feel like you have to go through with what you've said you'll do. It's also nice to have the moral support.

Make sure you know what's good for you.

If your nutritional knowledge could use a little boost, talk to a nutritionist or dietitian. They can also recommend a good book that can serve as a handy reference as you learn what's healthy and what's to be avoided. Find out how much fat and calories you should be eating, and then read food labels. If you do this regularly, eventually you'll get a good feel for what's in your food and how much you should be eating. This knowledge can help you choose the best foods for you at parties-fish instead of beef, plenty of vegetables, fruit instead of dessert, etc.

And don't forget the importance of regular exercise. It's harder to fit exercise in at this time of year, but don't sacrifice it in favor of parties. Squeeze in a walk during your lunch hour, before you go to work or before the party.

Circulation, 11 October 1999; R. Cicala. The Heart Disease Source Book. Lowell House/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc. Los Angeles, California90067, 1998.
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