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A Delicious Heart-Healthy Christmas Dinner Menu

What comes to mind when you think of the holidays? Spending time with loved ones, sharing festive gifts, and indulging in delicious food are likely to top your list. Planning a healthy Christmas dinner menu likely isn’t the first thing on your mind.

Unfortunately, holiday celebrations often center around food that wreaks havoc on the heart. Christmas cookies, processed appetizers, and alcohol abound, making it tempting to disrupt the healthy habits you’ve worked so hard to establish. It probably comes as no surprise that more people die of heart attacks the week of Christmas than at any other time of the year. 

But who says the holidays need to involve overindulging in unhealthy eating? In fact, preparing a delicious, heart-healthy meal is the best gift you can give yourself and those you love. So now is the time to reclaim the holidays, making this season about honoring joy and health. 

Five tips for a heart-healthy Christmas dinner 

Staying on track with your health goals throughout the holiday season is possible. The key to maintaining health during this busy time lies in planning ahead. Follow these five heart-saving tips for a successful Christmas dinner. 

Become the host

Traditionally, the host is the person who chooses the menu. By offering to host Christmas dinner for your loved ones, you control the appetizers, meal, desserts, and drinks. Moreover, you get to show your loved ones just how delicious eating healthy can be. Everyone around your table will feel that they are indulging, while you can rest easy knowing that you are providing a heart-healthy feast. 

If loved ones offer to bring a dish, assign them a specific recipe to add to the festivities. While you may get one or two guests who bring an unhealthy addition, it’s much easier to resist with so many other healthy choices. 

If hosting is not an option, bring a few of your favorite dishes to the holiday dinner, and load up on healthy food before you go. 

Have a healthy appetizer plan

For many of us, the holidays are all about noshing around the kitchen island before the actual meal begins. Unfortunately, however, appetizers are also where many unhealthy ingredients come into play. It’s also easy to make excuses for appetizers. After all, one small bite here and another small bite there won’t cause damage, right? Wrong.

Having a healthy appetizer plan is one of the most important aspects of keeping on track during the holiday season. Try some of the following easy appetizers to whet the appetite before the big meal. Use organic ingredients and remove any gluten, sugar, or processed grains from recipes. 

  • Shrimp cocktail 
  • Pasture-raised deviled eggs 
  • Sausage stuffed mushrooms 
  • Homemade salsa and grain-free chips
  • Vegetable platter
  • Grass-fed cocktail meatballs 
  • Buffalo chicken dip with celery
  • Raw nuts 
  • Olives
  • Wild smoked salmon spread
  • Chicken or beef pate 

Start your meal with soup or salad

Soups and salads are nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Studies have found that adding just one cup of nitrate-rich leafy green vegetables daily lowers heart disease risk by as much as 25 percent. Plus, filling up with the most nutritious foods before reduces the chances of reaching for an unhealthier choice. Your healthy Christmas dinner menu should always begin with vegetables!

Watch the alcohol intake 

Let’s face it, no matter how much we love the holidays, they come with some level of stress. Many people use the holidays as an excuse to kick back and have a few extra adult beverages than they would typically consume. Unfortunately, this can be incredibly dangerous to the heart. 

In addition to increased heart attacks during the holidays, the risk of abnormal heart rhythms also increases. 

In fact, newly diagnosed arrhythmias are so prevalent in the weeks around the Christmas holiday that a syndrome has been named for them. “Holiday heart syndrome” refers to alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation resulting from overindulgence during the holidays. 

To avoid damage to your cardiovascular system, avoid or limit alcohol during the holidays. Instead, find a fun mocktail that your entire family can enjoy! 

Create rituals around experiences rather than just food

Socialization in our society is built around food. And while that’s not necessarily bad if the food is healthy, creating rituals with loved ones around experiences is one of the best strategies for keeping the heart healthy. 

Consider a family hike through the woods, a dance party, or an evening walk to view Christmas lights. Not only do these cardiovascular activities keep the heart healthy, but they also keep you distracted from the mindless eating that often happens during the holiday season. 

A heart-healthy taste of Christmas

The celebratory feasts of our ancient ancestors mainly focused on seafood, meat, and vegetables. The foundation of a heart-healthy Christmas dinner menu today should mimic that of years ago. 

Even if your extended family isn’t accustomed to eating a whole-food-based diet, they will love the natural flavors of organic food, seasoned with rich spices and filled with plenty of healthy fat. 

Try your hand at this delicious, heart-healthy Christmas dinner menu. Don’t be afraid to get creative, making substitutions or adding food that resonates with you. There are only a few rules: 

  • All food should be organic and non-GMO
  • Meat should be grass-fed or pasture-raised
  • Seafood should be wild-caught 
  • Steer clear of processed food and sugar 

Holiday Winter Green Salad   

Nothing screams “holiday” like this festive winter salad’s red and green colors. The sweet flavors of pomegranate and pears balance the bitter greens, and the crunch of the toasted nuts adds terrific texture. 

More importantly, this salad is packed with heart-healthy ingredients. Dark leafy greens contain blood-pressure-lowering nitrates. Butternut squash bursts with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and gut-friendly fiber. Finally, pomegranates are packed with antioxidants proven to strengthen cardiovascular health. 

  • Serves: 4-6
  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Total time: 30 minutes 

Ingredients: 

Salad: 

  • 16 ounces of arugula, spinach, kale, or your favorite lettuce blend
  • 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tsp coconut oil 
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 medium avocados, cubed
  • 2 medium pears, peeled and cut into slices or chunks
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans, slivered almonds, or walnuts.  
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Dressing: 

  • 1 small orange, juice and zest 
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or honey
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive or avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375℉ and coat baking tray with coconut oil. Evenly distribute the butternut squash cubes onto the tray, seasoning with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove from the oven and let them cool. 
  2. While the butternut squash is cooking, add nuts to the oven for the last 5-6 minutes, allowing them to toast. Remove from oven. 
  3. Add chosen greens to a large salad bowl. Toss with cooled butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, pears, avocado, and toasted nuts. 
  4. For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a mason jar or dressing container. Tightly screw on the lid and shake until well combined. Drizzle dressing on top of the salad right before serving. 

Cranberry Ginger Salmon  

Love it or hate it, holidays just aren’t the same without cranberry sauce. Cranberries are packed with polyphenols, which are incredibly beneficial for the heart. Moreover, cranberries drastically improve endothelial function, thus boosting blood vessel health. Combine them with the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat that will become the star of your healthy Christmas dinner menu.

  • Serves: 4-6
  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Total time: 30 minutes 

Ingredients: 

  • 4-6 pieces of salmon filet, 2-3 ounces each in size 
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 
  • 2 Tbsp water 
  • 2 -3 Tbsp orange juice, plus zest
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375℉
  2. In a saucepan, combine cranberries, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, zest, water, and maple syrup. Simmer on low-medium heat for 10 minutes, or until berries begin to burst, stirring often. 
  3. Using a cast iron skillet, spread the glaze over the bottom of the pan in an even layer.
  4. Place the salmon in the skillet, rubbing each piece with one olive oil, and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and rosemary. 
  5. Place the skillet in the oven to bake for 15-18 minutes. Then, broil for 2-3 minutes on high until the glaze is thick and fish is flaky. 

 Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Most of us remember being told to eat our Brussels sprouts as children. This recipe will have your children asking for more. Heart-healthy Brussels sprouts, drizzled with a touch of maple syrup and sprinkled with pasture-raised bacon. What could be better? 

Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables. High in vitamin K, these nutritional powerhouses help to inhibit calcification in the blood vessels. Brussels sprouts are also high in heart-healthy magnesium, vitamin B6, and iron. 

  • Serves: 4-6
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Total time: 30 minutes 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 pounds Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 package of thick-cut, pasture-raised bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste  

Instructions: 

  • Preheat oven to 400℉
  • Place Brussels sprouts in a single layer on a large-rimmed baking sheet in the center of the oven. 
  • Sprinkle bacon on top of the Brussel Sprouts and drizzle the pan with olive oil and maple syrup. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients until coated evenly. 
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are lightly charred and crisp on the outside and tender in the center and the bacon is crisp, adjusting cooking time as needed. 

 Pomegranate Ginger Spritz  

If there’s one time of year you want to indulge, the holidays are certainly it. Thankfully, you can do so without the heart-harming effects of alcohol. The ginger in this mocktail helps the body process the juice’s natural sugars. Ginger also helps to relax the arteries, lowering blood pressure and protecting the heart. 

  • Serves: 2-4
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Total time: 5 minutes 

Ingredients: 

  • 1-2 cups of crushed ice
  • 1 1/2 cups 100% organic pomegranate juice
  • 3/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup sparkling water
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger 
  • 1 slice lime or orange, optional, for garnish
  • Sprig of rosemary, optional, for garnish 

Instructions: 

  • Divide the crushed ice between 2-4 cocktail glasses.
  • In a large pitcher, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice, sparkling water, and grated ginger. Stir gently to combine.
  • Pour the mixture into cocktail glasses, garnish with a slice of lime or orange and rosemary if desired. Enjoy! 

Next steps

Suppose you’ve lived most of your life celebrating the holidays by eating cookies, drinking alcohol, and stuffing yourself with unhealthy food. It can be tempting to fall back into those old patterns this time of year. 

However, rest assured that there’s no need to choose between enjoying the holidays and deprivation. Follow this healthy Christmas dinner menu, and you can stay on track with your health goals. If you’re ready to take control of your heart health, enroll in our 100 Year Heart Challenge to get support and resources to help you succeed and start the new year off right!

Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD 2022

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