Judy Nicassio is a nutritionist at Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in Scottsdale. (Photo by Alyssa Tufts, AZ Big Media)

December 16, 2018

Alyssa Tufts

Scottsdale nutritionist offers healthy holiday eating tips

In mid-swing of the holiday season, there’s bound to be a festive treat or two that is too tempting to resist, but by planning ahead and being mindful of what you eat, you can make smart choices and engage in healthy holiday eating while still enjoying the food and desserts that make the season bright.

We spoke with Judy Nicassio, nutritionist at Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in Scottsdale about tips for eating healthy this holiday season. Whether you’re traveling, trying to maintain your weight, or want to indulge without giving up your holiday favorites, we’ve got you covered.

AZ Big Media: What are some tips for how people can eat healthy while traveling, such as at an airport or when staying at a hotel?

Judy Nicassio: What I’ve found to be the most successful for myself and what I recommend to our patients is to plan ahead, always bring snacks with you because you know you’re going to the worst possible place to eat. Or if you don’t have time or forgot, airports have some decent snacks, you can find raw nuts, nut seeds and butters, an apple or an orange. I match up a protein and a fat with something that’s sweet like a fruit, so if I have a few nuts with my apple that’s better because it slows down the absorption of glucose when you’re eating. I always try to impress upon patients if you’re eating fruit, always make sure you have a protein or a fat with it—and that is pretty easy to find in airports. If you’re just really hungry, do what you would at a fast food restaurant by picking the better choices, like a burger without a bun.

If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a mini fridge if you don’t already have one in your room, go to a grocery store and get some healthy snacks to take with you when you go out. I think nowadays if you have a combination of planning ahead and bringing a few of your own things, or just picking things that are the “lesser evils,” you can still eat healthy no matter where you are.

ABM: What are some healthy brands with flavorful products you recommend?

JN: A few of my favorite brands in the nut butters are Justin’s and Artisana because it’s organic and raw…and they come in travel packets and that’s perfect if you have it as a snack with a vegetable like celery sticks. Primal Kitchen is a really good brand too that you can get organic dressings, sauces, collagen nut and seed bars, collagen and whey protein. I also recommend MightyBee coconut jerky, The Primal Pantry and Garden of Life Performance protein bars, Coconut Merchant coconut chips, EPIC paleo bars and Steve’s Paleo Goods (which have lots of different types of healthy snacks).

ABM: How can people enjoy their favorite foods and desserts during the holidays while being conscious of portions, carbs and sweets?

JN: I think when you’re going into other people’s homes you don’t want them to feel insulted or feel bad they didn’t have exactly what you wanted, and I run into that a lot. For example, my mother-in-law is Italian, and I go to her house, she has all these things that are high-carb. There’s always a protein like chicken or meatballs, so what I’ve learned to do is have more protein with a small amount of carbs or just eat half of the amount I usually would.

If it’s sweets, eat half of the amount too, and don’t go crazy. Always have some protein or fat before you go to a holiday dinner and make sure to look at what’s available and choose a protein that’s going to sustain you because they regulate blood sugar and make us feel full and satisfied, then you can indulge.

If I eat a few meatballs or a piece of chicken for example, and then I have some of the other things that I want to have like a dessert, I eat smaller portions. If you eat protein or fat before you go, then you’re not going to be so hungry that you overconsume, because once you start that, it’s hard to stop. You can have a few bites of something and say, “that was really good,” and you’re not going to overconsume because you’re not starving.

ABM: How do you recommend people maintain their weight through the holidays?

JN: Eating enough protein, staying hydrated and stress management.

I think first and foremost, is always make sure you have enough protein at every meal that serves two purposes, regulates blood sugar and keeps you full and satisfied. I also think it’s important to find a way to be active even if it’s not working out in a gym and staying hydrated too — drinking a lot of water alone can help you lose weight.

Stress management is important too. If you take five minutes during the day and just mediate, be mindful and slow down, not be so caught up in everything around you, especially when it’s so stressful around the holidays and relax, I think that is super key. And deep breathing is probably the easiest thing to do, because you can do it anywhere, I can be standing in line at the store, I could be sitting at a dinner table, and that is amazingly beneficial, so I am very big on some sort of stress management, even if it’s just diaphragmatic. To help you maintain your weight: hydrate, keep your diet somewhat normalized like eating enough protein, reducing certain portions, don’t overindulge and try to implement some kind of stress management daily.

ABM: How do you think people can incorporate healthy diet and exercise techniques around the holidays when they’re not at home?

JN: I think both is best, but I also believe certain research that shows diet is more important. Exercise is a great thing and it does a lot of good things for you too; the combination of diet and exercise is perfect. However, if I’m traveling, or going to a place where I’m not going to be able to exercise that much, I’m going to focus more on my diet. I think your diet is going to trump working out if I had to choose, so try to go out and take a walk with your family. Some of my best walks have been with family at the holidays where we’re just walking together, and we have even hiked together after a big meal, so I think it’s great, it’s part of the fun too.

ABM: Are there any trends for 2019 you’ve observed in healthy eating?

JN: What I hear a lot about and what people ask me the most about are the keto and paleo trends. I also work at Whole Foods, and I’m seeing that they are really catering to those trends and selling premade products with good ingredients that you can grab off the shelves.

I think nowadays they’ve made it a lot easier to follow these diets by providing products that fall within the diet guidelines and follow the nutrient ratio. So when people tell me all these reasons why they can’t do something, I think it’s a lot easier than it used to be to stick to these diets or make healthier choices if you try, especially if you plan ahead.