Hidden Risks in Your Holiday Feast

Do you look forward to the “over-the-top" food fare that the holidays bring? One of the primary reasons that people get together during the holidays is not only for friendly exchanges but for the luscious food! Elaborate cuisine creations can be a major part of the holiday season, but food-focused holiday events might pose a hidden risk to your health.  

Did you know that the average American gains between 1 and 10 pounds in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas? This comes at a time when as many as 33% of the people in the United States are already overweight, so overconsuming those tempting dishes over the holidays may spell trouble for your New Year's health goals.  

What exactly happens when you overeat? One of the most important jobs of your stomach is to secrete hydrochloric acid (commonly known as stomach acid), especially for meals that contain protein. However, the more food you eat, the more hydrochloric acid (HCL) you will need to produce. If your HCL levels become too low, then proteins cannot be broken down properly into their component amino acids. These undigested proteins then purify in your gut, causing gas, bloating, and even heartburn.   

Are you familiar with the gassy, bloated feeling you can get after eating a big meal? Big meals can stress your digestion and cause your food to sit in your digestive system longer, causing this uncomfortable sensation. This reaction happens because your body is not used to trying to digest so much food at one time and cannot secrete enough hydrochloric acid to properly digest all the food. 

Your blood sugar is also stressed by huge holiday feasts, especially if the meal is high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, such as cakes and pies. You might feel an energy spike after eating sugar-rich treats because your body will release excess amounts of insulin to help control your blood sugar, but this burst of energy will only last long enough to put the dishes away – you'll crash soon after.  

The holidays are often a time where people can end up overindulging in alcohol as well. During holiday events, you may find a full layout of wine, beer, or spirits that may tempt you to overindulge. However, there is a big difference between beer (about 5% alcohol), wine (about 10% alcohol) and “hard liquor” (such as gin, whiskey, rum, vodka; about 40% alcohol) For your best health (yes, even during the holidays) take a pass on the hard alcohol. Studies show that for your best health benefits, the optimal amount of wine is one glass (150 mL) of wine per day for women and 2 glasses for men.  

Other studies show that moderate beer consumption (one drink per day for women; two drinks per day for men) may benefit heart and bone health. But even with these benefits, overconsuming alcohol can be dangerous. There is even a phenomenon known as “holiday heart syndrome” caused by excessive alcohol consumption that has been linked to a cardiac arrhythmia which occurs in people without a history of cardiovascular problems.  

To maximize your holiday enjoyment, offer to bring a healthy dish to a party. Be selective and choose dishes that feature fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Encourage your friends (even have a friendly contest!) to create delicious but “junk-less” holiday meals made with a whole range of healthy foods. How about garlic hummus with coconut oil chips? Or create some heavenly, hearty lentil soup without cheese. How about a platter of lentil flatbread tacos filled with spicy pico de gallo? The sky is the limit, and you won’t wake up the next day with regrets about your “toxic” meal from the night before. If you do happen to overindulge once or twice this season, don’t beat yourself up. Breathe, move on, and plan to make better food choices next time.  

Get ahead on your New Year’s resolutions by skipping the indulgences of the season – you'll be glad you did!