5 Simple Holiday Nutrition Tips for a Joyful and Healthy Holiday Season

As the year 2020 comes to a close, most of you may be feeling relieved but perhaps also a little stressed. Holiday times ⏤ even during a typical year (which 2020 certainly was anything but!) can feel overwhelming and exhausting. For some, it may bring about feelings of loneliness and sadness. You are not alone. 

Especially in a year where we had to deal with a pandemic, you deserve a break! Here are some simple nutrition and health tips that may help everyone have a holiday season that’s not only less stressful, but enjoyable and memorable. 

Tip #1: Get enough vitamin D from sunshine and mushrooms for a strong immune system

Vitamin D works with calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals in your body to keep your bones strong but also supports a well functioning immune system. During this winter season ⏤ particularly when we are dealing with COVID-19, having a strong immune system is vital.  

So why mushrooms? A recent study has found that zapping mushrooms, from the humble white button mushrooms to other wild or ‘newer’ varieties like maitake or shiitake with a little UV light increases their vitamin D content. You can find these mushrooms with labels that indicate that it’s been treated with UV light but if you don’t see them around, exposing mushrooms (even store bought ones) in sunshine increases their vitamin D level. About 15 minutes in the sun, preferably with the gills up will do the trick. While you’re at it – get some sunshine on your skin too. Sunshine is the best way to boost your vitamin D level. However, since it’s winter, you can also get more of this important vitamin through mushrooms or other foods like fortified plant-based milk, fatty fish, and fortified cereals. Supplements are also ok and may be necessary, but ask your doctor or dietitian to check your current vitamin D level to determine the right amount you should take.  

Tip #2: Add some spice to your meals to release those “feel-good” chemicals 

Spicy foods release endorphins – the chemical produced naturally by our nervous system. It helps us to cope with pain or stress and hence, it’s often called the “feel-good” chemical. Studies show that when capsaicin, found in hot peppers, binds to pain receptors on our nerves, the brain releases endorphins. Capsaicin is associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well. Those who eat chili peppers may have a 26% less risk of death from heart disease and are 23% less likely to die of cancer compared to those who do not eat the hot stuff. So add some kick to your recipes to cook up some heart-healthy dishes that will boost your mood and protect you and your loved ones health.   

Tip #4: Drink and be merry with…water and tea! 

Sure a little red wine may help with your mood and health (especially when you enjoy a glass with your loved ones) but today, we’re referring to drinking enough fluid, like water. During the winter season, you may tend to drink less water because you may not feel hot, sweaty, or thirsty. But no matter the season, your body needs hydration to function at its best. Water helps lubricate our joints, keep our blood clean, carry nutrients to the cells, and help regulate our body temperature. 

If you have trouble drinking enough water during the colder seasons, try some warm water with lemon slices. Hot beverages like tea – from ginger, rooibos, mint, green, black, and other delicious herbal types work well too. Just try not to add sugar and limit the amount of coffee, alcohol, and other sugar sweetened beverages or fruit juice so that you can feel your best (and leave a little room for a few scrumptious holiday desserts!). 

Tip #5: Keep moving to keep the joy flowing 

When it’s cold and perhaps even snowy out, it feels more challenging to get out and about. But movement is key to our health and happiness. In addition, engaging in playful or physical activities can help improve our mindset, lower stress, and increase social bonds, which can all add up to a more fulfilling and enjoyable holiday season. 

Find what works for you. Make it enjoyable but keep it simple ⏤ do you have any neighbors that might want to take a walk around the block with you? If you don’t have a dog, why not volunteer to walk your neighbor’s dog that may need some exercise? If you’re gathering as a family (of course, in a socially-distanced manner) why not play some outdoor games on the patio like bean bag toss, horseshoes, ring toss…to name a few. Or just moving around the house such as cleaning, going up and down the stairs, using some hand weights or stretch bands, taking a movement break during TV commercials … it all adds up. 

Holiday season is time for unwinding, relaxing, recharging, and yes, indulging a little. With a few health tricks up your sleeve like the ones we shared with you here today, we hope that your winter and holiday season will be filled with joy, health, and connection. May your 2020 end on a happy and enjoyable note! 

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Sahra Pak, MS, RD, CPT, DipACLM
Sahra is a registered dietitian with a focus on plant-based nutrition, lifestyle medicine, public health, and mindfulness. Her personal mission is to work toward increasing equity, wellness, and happiness for all, by contributing to work that promotes the health of both people and the planet.