Healthy holiday tips from the American Cancer Society


In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society talks about how you can take steps toward a healthier New Year. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre, S.D. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

Charlotte Hofer: Roberta, what’s the number one way to have a happy and healthy holiday?

Roberta Cahill: Quit smoking. Quitting now has immediate benefits, like saving money, whiter teeth, better smelling clothes and hair, and better tasting food. Is there a better time of year for your food to taste better than right now during the holidays? The long term benefits to quitting are even better, including living a longer life, and avoiding life-threatening diseases like lung cancer and heart problems. The American Cancer Society has many resources to help you quit smoking at or 1-800-ACS-2345.

CH: What else can a person do to be healthier this holiday season?

RC: Maintain a healthy weight. This is always a challenge when there are so many good foods around to eat. But you can still enjoy holiday treats and meals by controlling portion sizes. It seems like we’re programmed to eat huge meals and lots of treats during the holidays. You can still eat everything you like – just in moderation. And exercising regularly is key to preventing cancer and will also help offset some of that holiday eating. Another thing you can do to keep your waistline in check is to take part in the American Cancer Society “Eat Right Challenge” for healthier eating habits. Visit to find nutrition tips and healthy recipes.

Check out the Great American Eat-Right cookbook – filled with 140 recipes that are fast, full of flavor, and cut your cancer risk.

CH: What about when I go out to eat with my family?

RC: Make choices about where your family eats out. Choose restaurants that have healthy choices on the menu. On the day that you’re going out to a restaurant, make an eating plan for the day so that you don’t blow your “calorie budget.” Also, order your favorite appetizer as your entrée. That way, you get to eat what you like while cutting the calories big time. Also, in an effort to avoid dangerous second-hand smoke, think about avoiding restaurants that allow smoking.

CH: What are some ways that I can eat healthy when I’m out?

RC: Just because you’re eating out doesn’t mean you have to blow your diet. Most restaurants offer salads, but make sure you know what’s on that salad before you order it. Order lettuce or spinach salads with vegetables and dressing on the side. Go easy on the bacon bits, croutons, cheese, and mayonnaise-based items like macaroni salad or tuna salad, which has an astounding 190 calories for just a quarter cup. Also, instead of loading up your baked potato, just use a pat of butter or sour cream. Then, top it with broccoli, low-fat chili, or salsa. Order sandwiches on whole wheat instead of white bread. Then, pile on flavorful vegetables like roasted sweet peppers, spinach, tomatoes and jalapenos – instead of mayonnaise and cheese.

CH: Besides my holiday favorites, what foods should I be eating?

RC: The American Cancer Society recommends limiting high-fat foods, such as dairy products and red meats, to 2 to 3 servings per day. For example, limit that holiday ham, but enjoy your grandma’s famous turkey or other white meat. The American Cancer Society recommends eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help prevent cancer and limit your calorie intake. Good fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, so they help you stay full, so not only are you getting great, low calorie nutrition, but you’ll stay out of the kitchen longer in between meals or snacks.

CH: I’m always on the go during the holidays. How can I eat fast and stay healthy?

RC: There are many healthy snacks and on-the-go foods. Fill a baggie with dry cereal, dry roasted peanuts and raisins. Take along boxed low-fat milk and orange juice. A handful of raisins and 6 oz. of juice provide two servings of fruit – a good start toward that goal of at least five fruits or veggies a day. For a meal on-the-go, make a dinner wrap using a low-fat tortilla. Fill with low-fat deli meats and cheeses, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts, roasted red peppers, black beans, garbanzo beans, and/or leftover grilled chicken. To flavor and hold a vegetarian wrap together, thinly spread low-fat cream cheese or hummus on the tortilla, or add a small amount of low-fat ranch or blue-cheese salad dressing. It’s a delicious and nutritious way to eat on the go instead of pulling through a fast food restaurant.

CH: How can I stay healthy at all of those holiday gatherings and parties?

RC: Limit your alcohol consumption. This is very important because according to the American Cancer Society, men who consume at least two alcoholic drinks a day, and women who consume at least one alcoholic drink a day increase their risk of developing certain kinds of cancers. Because of this, it is so important to drink alcohol in moderation at any of the holiday parties or family gatherings you plan to attend this year. And of course, drinking packs on calories.

CH: What else can I do to help fight cancer as the year comes to a close?

RC: Make an appointment for your yearly physical. Your doctor can help you learn how to protect yourself from cancer, as well as check your body for different types of cancer. You can help yourself and others too by making a year-end charitable donation to the American Cancer Society. This will help you lower your taxes and help the cause to eliminate cancer in our lifetime. Also, get involved in an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event. Funds help support research, advocacy, education and American Cancer Society services.

Prevent cancer in yourself and loved ones by keeping up with the latest information from the American Cancer Society by putting in your internet favorites. The tips I’ve told you about can all be found on the Web site.

Editors Note: The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. For cancer information anytime, call 1-800-227-2345 or visit For information about this article, please contact Charlotte Hofer, American Cancer Society at