Tips for a Heart Healthy Thanksgiving

Whether you will be hosting or attending your Thanksgiving dinner, Stony Brook electrophysiologist — a cardiologist with specialization in atypical heart rhythms — Roger Fan, MD, offers six helpful tips for enjoying a heart healthy holiday.

Treat Your Heart Right this Season

Filling your holiday with a heart healthy approach can help you and your family continue a healthy lifestyle into the New Year.

While Thanksgiving can be the perfect time for gathering around the table, this beloved American tradition can also play havoc with your heart health. Here are heart health habits to incorporate into your holiday tradition.

1. Downsize Your Plate 

For some individuals, overindulging can over-stimulate your central nervous system and promote rapid, irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Also, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention — additional risk factors for heart problems. Be mindful of portions, try using a smaller plate so it appears full, and avoid heading over to Thanksgiving dinner on a completely empty stomach. To fill up a little, eat a high-protein snack, such as nonfat yogurt.

2. Stay Hydrated  

Because the same part of your brain (the hypothalamus) is responsible for interpreting both hunger and thirst signals, mixed messages often lead us to believe we are craving food when all our body really wants, is fluids. Drinking a cup or two of water about a half-hour before your Thanksgiving meal can help you to feel full without overeating, aid in digestion and help your heart to work more efficiently. 

3. Keep Stress in Check 

Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke and that feeling of, “I can’t get it all done,” can really take a toll.  

  • Avoid over-committing. Prioritize yourself and make an investment in your physical and mental health. 
  • Take some downtime and head outdoors. Research suggests that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout in relieving anxiety symptoms. 
  • For some, disruption of your usual sleep schedule can be a trigger for atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common heart rhythm disorder. Try to get enough rest and a good night’s ZZZs. 
  • Practice deep breathing; give yoga or meditation a try. 

4. Ready, Set, Move 

In addition to relieving anxiety, exercise not only lowers levels of a hormone (ghrelin) that stimulates appetite and raises levels of a hormone (peptide YY) that suppresses appetite, it also boosts your ‘good’ cholesterol, lowers your blood pressure, keeps your weight down and is a kind of one-stop-shopping for your overall well-being. During the holidays — and, in fact, all year round — aim for 30 minutes a day of brisk movement at least five days a week. Spread out the 30 minutes into more bite-sized 10-minute chunks and still reap the benefits. Be sure to talk with your doctor first if you are starting a new exercise program.

5. “Holiday Heart” 

Alcohol can affect your heart health. Drinking too much and/or too quickly can result in an irregular heartbeat. Moderation is key. Binge drinking can produce disturbances in cardiac rhythm, even in people without underlying heart disease. Anyone can be at risk for “holiday heart syndrome,” a term that is applied to an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, which is commonly triggered by excessive alcohol intake. 

6. Smart Swaps 

The following ingredient alternatives can provide simple but tasty ways to cut back on Thanksgiving calories, sugar, sodium and/or fat.  

  • Reaching for the white meat turkey instead of the dark will get you about half the fat grams. 
  • Fold whipped egg whites into your sweet potato casserole and you won’t miss the marshmallows.
  • If making a soup or sauce that calls for heavy cream, use plain, low-fat Greek yogurt to achieve that creamy texture.
  • Season vegetable dishes with lemon juice to compensate for a reduction in salt. 
  • Dark chocolate typically has less sugar than milk chocolate. 
  • Make stuffing with whole-grain bread rather than white. High fiber whole grain flour takes longer to digest and can help prevent a spike in blood sugar. 

Visit or call your doctor right away for any unusual signs and symptoms that may suggest a heart condition. When in doubt, go to the emergency room or call 911 and get it checked out. Don’t delay getting help, even if it’s a holiday. 

**And, of course, follow all current CDC Covid safety guidelines.

From our Stony Brook Heart Institute family to yours….Very best wishes for a happy — and heart healthy — Thanksgiving! 

Put Your Heart Health First

If you are at risk or if someone in your family has a heart condition, it’s important to schedule a visit with a cardiologist for preventive care. Our cardiologists can help you improve your heart health and/or prevent the progression of cardiovascular disease with a comprehensive heart disease risk assessment and treatment options.

Do something good for your own heart health by taking a free heart health assessment now.