Cooking from — and for — the heart this holiday season

‘Tis the season to be jolly — and to indulge in favorite holiday foods and beverages. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are often full of opportunities to feast on foods high in fat and sugar. The average American packs on an extra pound of weight every year, and at least half of that is gained over the holiday season, according to several studies.

To help curtail that trend, which will help your heart as well as your waistline, try some of the alternative or lighter versions of foods and drinks traditionally served during the December holidays, described below. But there’s no need to deprive yourself of special favorites that you have just once a year. “You can weave them in with healthier options,” says Liz Moore, a dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.


Latkes — crispy pancakes made with shredded potatoes — are commonly served during Hanukkah. “I am very much in favor of having traditional fried latkes as a delicious treat once a year,” says dietitian Juliana Gilenberg, who also works at Beth Israel Deaconess. But she’s also experimented with healthier versions, including baked and pan-fried latkes made with either sweet potatoes or zucchini, which are a bit lower in calories than the traditional version. She also suggests adding some grated beets or cauliflower to replace some of the potato in a latke recipe for some added fiber.

Gilenberg also recommends cutting the salt by half in any recipe you use. Over time, your taste buds will adjust and you may find you can stop adding salt altogether, she says. Eating less salt is one of the top recommendations for lowering blood pressure. “Heighten the flavors by increasing the amount of herbs and spices called for in the recipes,” she suggests.


The Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve dinner makes for a heart-friendly meal, given the American Heart Association’s advice to eat fish or seafood once or twice a week. Although traditionalists may prepare seven separate dishes, others settle for a simple fish and seafood stew, called cioppino.

If you make a special treat for Christmas morning, such as cinnamon rolls, make small ones to go alongside a healthy dish, such as a vegetable omelet or frittata, Moore suggests. Families who prepare a traditional dinner for Christmas Day can lighten up the menu by adding more vegetable side dishes, such as roasted brussels sprouts or sautéed green beans with garlic, says Moore. Instead of a gooey sweet potato casserole, try baked sweet potatoes topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few mini-marshmallows.


A Kwanzaa feast may include classic African American soul food or dishes from throughout the African diaspora. Braised collard greens are often prepared with ham or bacon, but you can substitute smoked turkey or omit the meat altogether. The meal’s focal point could be groundnut stew, which is rich in heart-friendly ingredients: vegetables, beans, peanuts, fresh herbs, and spices.

New Year’s Eve

If you’re serving appetizers, try making a simple dip with low-fat yogurt or fat-free sour cream blended with onions, garlic, herbs, and spices, served with a variety of raw vegetables. Unsalted nuts are also a healthy option.

People usually don’t wait until midnight before raising a glass of champagne or other alcoholic beverage. But before pouring a second glass, you might want to know that the scientific report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee lowered the recommendation regarding alcohol for men to no more than one drink per day (which was already the case for men over age 65 and all women). So make some festive nonalcoholic cocktails featuring sparkling water, a splash of juice, and fresh fruit.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

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