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Transplant Patient 2021 Holiday Nutrition Holiday Tips

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a time of year when delicious seasonal foods abound. To help transplant patients navigate festive fare, Kelly Shehan, a clinical dietitian with the Hume-Lee Transplant Center, provides some nutrition tips for the 2021 holiday season.

Kelly Shehan, Clinical Dietitian

What advice do you share with transplant patients at this time of year?

Make a plan. Think about the food that is most important to you in your celebrations. Know you’ll choose a small serving of that food and enjoy it without guilt. Compensate a little somewhere else during the day by choosing less of other foods you don’t enjoy as much or by being sure to increase activity a little.

Before an event, don’t skip meals because that will more than likely lead to overindulgence later.

It’s best to enjoy a healthy snack before leaving so you’re not starving when you arrive.

Avoid mingling near the food tables and try to sit down to eat a proper meal rather than grazing.

Use a small plate. Start with lean proteins and healthy vegetables to fill up. Chew mindfully and enjoy the conversation as you eat slowly.

It’s OK to say no to foods that aren’t your favorite if you’re offered them at work or at a small gathering. Politely say “No Thanks.”

Keep goodies in places that are less accessible and are not constantly in sight.

Are there any foods transplant patients should stay away from?

Sodium and potassium are both nutrients that can cause transplant patients trouble during the holidays. Excess sodium can lead to fluid retention and too much potassium can lead to heart trouble. It’s best to limits these foods if you are sensitive to them.

Are there any healthy alternatives to common holiday foods that are suitable for transplant patients?

Many of our favorite holiday foods are loaded with salt, fat, and sugar. Try making a simpler fresh version of one of your usual dishes using only herbs and spices. Try fresh green beans with roasted garlic in place of green bean casserole, baked apples in place of pies or cakes, fresh veggies with dip in place of chips, or sparkling water in place of high calorie beverages. These swaps can help you maintain your health during the holidays.

Why is it important for patients to maintain a healthy diet, even during the holidays?

There are many events during the holidays with friends at home and at work. If you overindulge at them all, you’re more likely to be at risk of complications.

What do family members need to know before buying or preparing foods for transplant patients?

For patients who are post-transplant, it’s very important to remind friends and family about the importance of food safety for the immunocompromised. Temperature control is very important. If you don’t feel certain that the food being offered is safe, it is best to skip it. Bringing a snack like some nuts or a protein bar can help satisfy you until you can find safe food choices.

If a transplant patient had one too many cookies, for example, is it the end of the world?

Use the plan you made to allow yourself an indulgence. When we let ourselves enjoy a little, without guilt, we’ll be less likely to overindulge. If you do make a mistake and have one serving too many, remind yourself it won’t ruin all your hard work if you get right back on track.

A healthy diet may be tough during the holidays. How can someone stay motivated?!?

Visualize your goal: Think about enjoying the holidays without needing medical intervention.

Be realistic: It’s OK to plan for a treat.

Think positively: Believe that you can enjoy and still maintain your health.

Reward yourself with non-food treats: Make of list of a few small things that make you happy during the holidays and splurge on those in place of food.