Simple Ways to Keep Heart Health a Priority During the Holidays

A restaurant owner and chef shares his tips on heart-healthy living this holiday season.

Healthy Heart|Dec.12, 2018

Getting together with family and enjoying home-cooked meals is one of the best parts of the holiday season. But eating healthy can be tricky when you're faced with plates loaded with fatty, salty foods. By making a few simple modifications, you can enjoy your favorite holiday foods and still protect your heart health.

Hold the Salt, Please

Increased sodium consumption is one of the biggest risks for people with heart problems such as heart disease during the holiday season. A dash of salt added to fresh, home-cooked food isn't a cause for concern. But the high amount of sodium in prepackaged foods, canned goods, premade seasoning packets, condensed soups and other ingredients that are commonly used this time of year can be.

The American Heart Association says that excessive salt intake — more than 1,500 milligrams per day, which equates to less than 3/4 teaspoon — raises your blood pressure, which means that your heart is working harder to pump blood through your body. This increases your risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure. So it's crucial to pay attention to what's going into the meals you cook for the holidays and to ask friends and family to pay attention, too.

You can limit salt and still create delicious meals. Just ask Tyrone Morris.

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2012 and is currently on the waitlist for a heart transplant. He also owns a barbecue restaurant, BigCountry's Barbecue, in Milwaukee. To help his heart health — and that of his customers — he skips the salt when he's cooking.

"(In my restaurant) we do not add salt to anything. Nothing. Period," he said. "We cook a lot of pork, which already has salt in it. But me knowing I can't have salt, I started trying different herbs. Even (our) corned beef has no added salt."

Morris's customers don't seem to mind.

"They notice (the food) ain't salty, but my customer base is still outrageous," he said.

Morris says he uses low-sodium chicken broth and garlic in a lot of his foods, because garlic, in addition to adding flavor, may help control blood pressure. He's even developed barbecue sauces with no salt added.

Tips for Eating Healthy This Holiday Season

As you're planning your holiday menu or getting up to the family buffet table, keep in mind that eating healthy doesn't mean that you have to forgo your favorites. A few substitutions and some new recipes can make all the difference.

  • Start with fresh or frozen vegetables. Vegetables are essential to healthy eating, so make them a central part of your meal. And play with new recipes to lighten up heavier side dishes. For example, consider blanched green beans with toasted almonds instead of a green bean casserole. Use cinnamon instead of sugar in your sweet potato casserole, and top it with cinnamon-toasted pecans and a light dusting of brown sugar.
  • Opt for lean meats. Choose low-fat meats such as turkey or chicken instead of saltier meats such as ham and pork. To further curtail your sodium intake, follow Tyrone's advice and season your meats with low-sodium broths, spices and fresh herbs.
  • Choose whole grains. Whole-grain rolls, pasta salad with whole wheat pasta and brown rice are all healthier whole-grain side dish options.
  • Choose your drink wisely. Sweet tea, sodas and alcohol can all raise your blood sugar, which puts a strain on your heart. Try sparkling water or unsweetened tea instead. For a little sweetness, add some fresh fruit.
  • Go nuts for healthy fats. Make roasted, seasoned nuts as a sweet treat or snack for your holiday gathering. Just be sure to buy unsalted nuts to start.
  • Play with spices. Don't buy premade seasoning packets or preseasoned sides. Get creative and mix up your own blends for meat, potatoes and vegetables.
  • Consume in moderation. You can still enjoy macaroni and cheese or a slice of pie. Just keep your portions small, and make sure the rest of your meal moderates fat, sugar and salt enough to make room for the indulgences.

Staying active also keeps your heart strong. So grab a jacket and a family member and go for a walk after your big meal. With a few simple modifications, you can still enjoy a delicious holiday meal — or any meal, really — without having to worry about its effect on your heart.

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Simple Ways to Keep Heart Health a Priority During the Holidays


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Brief Summary: Prior to using these devices, please review the Instructions For Use for a complete listing of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, potential adverse events and directions for use.


Indications: The HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System is indicated for providing short- and long-term mechanical circulatory support (e.g., as bridge to transplant or myocardial recovery, or destination therapy) in patients with advanced refractory left ventricular heart failure.


Contraindications: The HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System is contraindicated for patients who cannot tolerate, or who are allergic to, anticoagulationtherapy.


Adverse Events: Adverse events that may be associated with the use of the HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System are: death, bleeding, cardiac arrhythmia, localized infection, right heart failure, respiratory failure, device malfunctions, driveline infection, renal dysfunction, sepsis, stroke, other neurological event (not stroke-related), hepatic dysfunction, psychiatric episode, venous thromboembolism, hypertension, arterial non-central nervous system (CNS) thromboembolism, pericardial fluid collection, pump pocket or pseudo pocket infection, myocardial infarction, wound dehiscence, hemolysis (not associated with suspected device thrombosis) or pump thrombosis.