#HEALTH: Navigating holiday temptations

THE holidays are a time to be around friends, family, and of course, food. But many holiday treats and dishes can be high in calories, but low in the nutrients and vitamins our bodies need.

One way to resist unhealthy sweets and foods this season is to incorporate more protein into every meal while cutting back on refined carbs and fat. You'll feel more full, so you're likely to eat less and cut down on unhealthy snacking.

Protein is important because it helps build and maintain lean muscle mass.

It's the foundation for bones, muscles, skin, blood and connective tissue. Protein also helps to make meals more satisfying and having some protein at every meal and snack helps with appetite control over the course of the day and can help ensure that everyone meets their protein needs, which vary depending on body size and composition, age, and activity level.

Protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, legumes and seeds, also supply B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium.

Here are some ways to swap in protein as you navigate all the holiday temptations:

Have a healthy, protein-rich breakfast Start the day with a high-protein breakfast — about 25g should do it. Studies suggest this will keep you full until lunch.

Incorporate healthy snacking Try not to head to a holiday event with an empty stomach. Have a substantial snack prior, such as plain Greek yoghurt or non-fat cottage cheese with fruit, or a protein-rich snack bar before you leave.

You can also bring some portable high-protein snacks with you just in case.

Be selective about holiday food

Food plays a big part in Malaysian culture, all the more so during the holiday season with celebrations usually revolving around delicious festive treats.

However, for side dishes, cut out starchy sides, such as white rice, bread, mashed potatoes, and white-flour pasta. Instead, put more vegetables on your plate, and look for protein-rich beans and grains such as lentils, quinoa, or bean-based pasta.

For the main course, try a holiday salad with a protein boost from lean chicken or seafood with edamame, tofu, or beans as a topper.

Choose wisely

You don't have to completely avoid your favourite holiday foods. One trick is to skip the foods you can eat year-round, like chocolate chip cookies, and instead, taste the special treats you can only get this time of year, like gingerbread.

*The writer is senior director, worldwide nutrition education and training for Herbalife.

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