Staying healthy during the holiday season is no easy feat. Between long flights, rich food and new environments, people are prone to eating poorly and getting sick this time of year. Texas Medical Center experts have some tips for side-stepping the holiday health slump.
“Avoiding spontaneous eating is the biggest thing with holiday travel—if you don’t plan ahead, then you walk into a situation and there is food everywhere,” said Roberta Anding, registered dietitian and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Having a plan when you travel is critical.”
Anding never travels without three or four clementines in her bag. At 35 calories a pop, the sweet, juicy snack is a much better option than the chips you might otherwise grab in the airport. She also recommends traveling with protein-rich beef jerky or turkey jerky.
According to Anding, the average female should consume between 1,500 and 1,800 calories per day and the average male should consume between 2,200 and 2,500 calories per day. To keep control over holiday calories, she said, bring a healthy side dish to a holiday meal.
“For example, if you offer to bring oven-roasted vegetables, they are sweet, they are caramelized and they look great next to a sliced turkey or ham,” Anding said. “They are a much healthier side dish than sweet potato casserole or mashed potatoes.”
Anding’s family members look forward to one of her undercover healthy side dishes—her famous Tuscan green beans.
“Tuscan green beans have oven roasted tomatoes, shallots, smoked paprika and green beans,” Anding said. “For the green beans to serve eight, I am only using a teaspoon of olive oil. The tomatoes bring out the flavor, they add moisture, the paprika gives it a nice, sweet hearty flavor, and my family really enjoys it.”
Anding also recommends allowing yourself to indulge in one starchy side dish.
“When you look at this whole buffet spread of food, pick something that you love and moderate your portions,” she said. “You have macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and stuffing. Pick one that makes your holiday most special.”
Depending on where you are headed for the holidays, there are other travel-related health concerns to keep in mind.
“When you are on a long-haul flight, people tend to get dehydrated,” said Herbert DuPont, M.D., travel medicine expert at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. “One of the complications that can occur from dehydration is blood clots in the legs—deep vein thrombosis.”
To avoid this, DuPont recommends wearing compression stockings and taking a non-alcoholic drink every time one is offered to you when flying. This will keep you hydrated and force you to get up from your seat and walk to the bathroom regularly.
Once you reach your destination, be mindful of your risk for diarrhea, DuPont said. American travelers have a 4% chance of contracting traveler’s diarrhea or acute diarrhea when they travel anywhere in the United States and Western Europe, he said, and this percentage jumps to eight percent when traveling to the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, 20% when traveling to South and Central America, Asia and Africa, and 40% when traveling to India. Acute diarrhea is often caused by bacterial infections stemming from contaminated food or water.
“One thing I recommend all travelers have is a ‘traveler’s pharmacy,’” DuPont said. “I don’t care how healthy you are, when you are traveling you should have diarrhea medicine, headache pills, cortisone cream and sun block. You should also try to take twice the amount you will need for the trip.”
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