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Post-holiday 'yo-yo' diets: risk factors for heart health

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Farah Siddiqi

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(Missouri News Service) The holiday season is filled with recipes passed down from years before, and feasting with family and friends. But think again before you have seconds.

The top three days for heart-related deaths are December 25-26 and January 1, according to a study in Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association. Missouri dietitians and the Heart Association are reminding people to mind their heart health and overcome excuses.

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Registered dietitian Ariel Johnston at The Tasty Balance in St. Louis said it's fine to enjoy favorite holiday foods - but add something, to help keep it balanced.

"Maybe you have your favorite recipes that was handed down from Grandma, and maybe it's not the most 'heart healthy.' You can still have that, but let's add some greens or salad, or your appetizers that include some fruits and veggies," she said. "You don't want to deprive yourself of those favorite things."

Winter weather can be another trigger for increased heart-attack risk, with cold temperatures restricting blood flow through already constricted blood vessels. But the research says even in a mild climate, about one-third more heart attack deaths occur in December and January than in June through September. 

If it's willpower you need to keep from overindulging, the Heart Association offers tips online at heart.org.

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Johnston added that so-called "yo-yo" dieting or crash diets, which are often popular following the holiday season, can be detrimental to heart health.

"A lot of the rhetoric that we hear at this time of year, as far as, like, 'This is how many pounds people gain during the holidays,' and then, you're going to start seeing all the advertising for the new diets coming up," she said. "Yes, people might lose weight and maybe improve lipid profiles a little bit. But really, they aren't sustainable."

The Heart Association also has recipes online that can help with healthier substitutions or additions to holiday meals.