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By Tina McLeod, nutritional science instructor, MATC School of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The holiday season is a time that many of us look forward to. We get the chance to celebrate with family and friends. It’s a time when clean eating and exercise can go the wayside. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle through the holidays while enjoying them is possible.

One of the best ways to get all of the essential nutrients is by eating a diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. We should watch the amount of processed foods we consume throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season when we are constantly on the go. These foods tend to contain lots of sugar and sodium. Many individuals rely on these types of foods because they are easy to find and inexpensive. But they often contain many calories and may do more harm than good to our health.

When counting calories, many of us forget to count those in our beverages.  Fruit juices can have as many calories as a soft drink. So watch those beverage choices!

We need to stay properly hydrated, however. The dry, cold weather can make this seem to be more of a task than in other times of the year. Drinking water is one of the best ways to prevent dehydration and it is calorie free!  The recommended water intake is nine cups per day for women and 13 cups a day for men. The easiest way to tell if you are well hydrated is by looking at your urine. If your urine is dark yellow, you are dehydrated. It’s the body’s way of telling you that more water is necessary!

Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is another nutrient that we need to be more aware of in the winter months. Vitamin D deficiency is very common for people living in northern climates. We can produce vitamin D on our own, but it is difficult during the winter months. Much research on low vitamin D levels shows an association with autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) and cancer.  There are many ways to get more vitamin D in our diets in the winter months.  Foods that contain good amounts of vitamin D include salmon, almond milk and fortified cereals. It is recommended that adults get 15 micrograms per day.

Let’s face it – the holidays can also be very stressful. Though we love our relatives, we may not always like them!  This can lead to a lot of stress.  Our bodies deal with stress by releasing a hormone called cortisol. We have to be careful with this, because too much cortisol can depress the immune system and make us more susceptible to becoming sick. Cortisol also can hinder weight loss efforts.

There are many ways to combat holiday stress. One of the best is exercise. Many of my students that tell me they have no time to exercise.  My answer to them is to take the stairs. This is one of the best ways to get exercise in between classes and it doesn’t require a gym membership.  It is a great workout. If you can do this for 10 minutes, three times per day, you may see great results, not only with your stress levels, but also with the numbers on the scale.

The holidays are a great time to appreciate all of the good things life has to offer – supportive friends and family, a roof over your head, etc.  It also is possible to enjoy the holidays without sacrificing your health.