Don’t Succumb to "Holiday Heart"

December 21, 2017 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

For many, the holidays are full of temptations to indulge in the wrong foods. We know it can be bad for us, but we rationalize these thoughts away, replacing them with the reasoning, “A little won’t hurt.” But is that true? Research says that for many, the risk of ‘just a little’ may be too much.

We know that over time, the effects of eating primarily low-nutrient food accumulates, leading to heart disease, and that susceptible individuals are then placed at risk of a heart attack or stroke. But did you know that the risk escalates after just one heavy, low-nutrient holiday meal? It’s true. There are more cardiac deaths on December 25, 26 and January 1 than any other days of the year. 1 Emergency rooms see these cases of ‘holiday heart’ in individuals who indulge excessively in celebration, tipping their already damaged cardiovascular systems into crisis.  Certainly, the more unhealthy a person is the more risk they have when they indulge.

Low-nutrient foods have immediate effects on your cardiovascular system: causing oxidative stress and inflammation, raising blood glucose, and interfering with proper blood pressure regulation and other important functions.2-5 Indulging in a meal made with high-fat oils, sugars, white flour and animal foods immediately impairs vascular function, increasing your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, especially during the holidays when stress, dehydration and excessive alcohol use also come into play.

What can we do about this sad SAD phenomenon?  

Make each meal count. At each and every meal you have a choice to build antioxidant defenses and protect arteries, or to do damage to them. You need to protect yourself first; but sharing this knowledge is goodwill for others and can save lives.  Every public eating occasion, every party, every birthday, every social occasion with friends, family or community is an opportunity to favorably influence others and perhaps have a positive influence.  Every Nutritarian dish or desert dessert tells a story, sets an example and encourages dialogue. Need help in making the right choice? Use your membership access to the recipe database to select special holiday recipes that allow your family to retain the festive aspects of the season without the risks of more traditional indulgences. Our database contains more than 1,600 Nutritarian recipes for every occasion. There you can build a great holiday menu with favorites like Greens and Berries Salad with Raspberry Dressing and Eggplant Cannelloni with Pine Nut Romesco Sauce. Grace your dessert table with a healthy version of Chocolate Almond Truffles.

At your holiday celebration, impress others with how delicious healthy eating can be and compliment whatever healthy choices are there with dishes you supply to make sure you are satisfied. When you bring a Nutritarian dish or dessert to share, and fill your plate with antioxidant-rich foods you set an example that can potentially save the lives of people you love, even if it takes years for them to “get it”.
Don’t forget the importance of exercise in helping to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, or let the bustle of the holidays interfere with your workout routine. A morning walk or run, even 4 - 5 minutes of calisthenics, jogging or jumping in place is valuable.

How Do You Cope with the Challenges of the Holidays? Share Your Thoughts or Tips in the Comments Section Below


1.    Kloner RA. The "Merry Christmas Coronary" and "Happy New Year Heart Attack" phenomenon. Circulation 2004, 110:3744-3745.
2.    Tsai WC, Li YH, Lin CC, et al. Effects of oxidative stress on endothelial function after a high-fat meal. Clin Sci (Lond) 2004, 106:315-319.
3.    Vogel RA, Corretti MC, Plotnick GD. Effect of a single high-fat meal on endothelial function in healthy subjects. Am J Cardiol 1997, 79:350-354.
4.    Lacroix S, Des Rosiers C, Gayda M, et al: Abstract 752: Baseline Triglyceridemia Influences Postprandial Endothelial Response to a Single Mixed Mediterranean-type Meal Compared to a High-saturated fat meal. In Canadian Cardiovascular Congress. Toronto, Canada2012.
5.    Lacroix S, Rosiers CD, Tardif JC, Nigam A. The role of oxidative stress in postprandial endothelial dysfunction. Nutr Res Rev 2012, 25:288-301.
6.    Burton-Freeman B, Linares A, Hyson D, Kappagoda T. Strawberry modulates LDL oxidation and postprandial lipemia in response to high-fat meal in overweight hyperlipidemic men and women. J Am Coll Nutr 2010, 29:46-54.
7.    Burton-Freeman B, Talbot J, Park E, et al. Protective activity of processed tomato products on postprandial oxidation and inflammation: a clinical trial in healthy weight men and women. Molecular nutrition & food research 2012, 56:622-631.
8.    Johnson BD, Padilla J, Harris RA, Wallace JP. Vascular consequences of a high-fat meal in physically active and inactive adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2011, 36:368-375.
9.    Lopes Kruger R, Costa Teixeira B, Boufleur Farinha J, et al. Effect of exercise intensity on postprandial lipemia, markers of oxidative stress, and endothelial function after a high-fat meal. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2016, 41:1278-1284.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.


Comments (0):



12/22/2017 04:40 PM

Thank you for the reminder to stay on track, I am fairly new to Nutritarian lifestyle. I started the end of Oct. and have dropped 32lbs. Your email is just what i needed to keep me on track. I was going to cheat, but after reading that i will not. There are lots of healthy alternatives to not feel deprived.





Lisa Fuhrman replies:

12/25/2017 06:05 AM

Terrific Crazymom! The holiday season should also be a time of celebration of health, which you are now a part of. Good for you and congrats on losing 32 lbs!



12/22/2017 04:41 PM

Thank you for this thoughtful reminder.  We can never hear the fundamental Nutritarian principles too often😊.

  What a holiday gift for us!

This comment was last edited on 12/22/2017 04:42 PM


12/22/2017 04:47 PM

I know this is true. My mom passed away of a fatal stroke two days after Christmas last year. Still heartbroken :( This is such an important reminder.


Lisa Fuhrman replies:

12/25/2017 06:08 AM

So sorry for your loss. Hope you find some solace in the fact that you are keeping yourself healthy; I'm sure your mom would be happy to know this.


12/22/2017 05:01 PM

Thank you, I am making the food we are eating and taking it to where the people don't eat healthy, I don't want to eat meat or dairy any more.


12/22/2017 07:01 PM

The way I get through holidays and family functions is to read and re-read your books continually. Your vast studying and knowledge of healthy nutrition provides much strength and encouragement. In November, I went to my 45th High School reunion and discussed with many of my classmates the benefits of becoming a Nutritarian. I have lost 63 pounds since April 1, 2017. My goal is to lose 45 more by June 1, 2018.

Lisa Fuhrman replies:

12/25/2017 06:09 AM

Congratulations on your 63 pound loss! Let us know how you continue to do. Wishing you much health and happiness in the coming year!


12/22/2017 07:15 PM

Thank you Dr. for words. When everything around us is bad for our health close to holidays like sugary pies, greasy food and heavy alcohol. Our health for our love ones is more important. Happy Holidays 😄


12/22/2017 09:44 PM

This message was good timing for me as I had just heard that a family member had just had a heart attack. Personally I have been able to lose 33lbs this year, so very happy with Dr Furhrmans advice in his books.  Apparently my daughter has brought me his latest book for Christmas.  Can’t wait to sit back, relax and read it.  


12/23/2017 07:56 AM

Thank you dr f. Three years and counting since I adopted your eating plan. Not perfect but make a great effort everyday. Merry Christmas to you and your family


12/23/2017 09:03 AM

The information shared in the blog was very interesting. So many times we think "what can this one meal do",  or I can indulge during the holidays and get back on track, not realizing that it may only take that one meal to cause a heart attack. Thank you Dr. Fuhrman for your books and commitment to help others live a healthful life.


12/23/2017 12:34 PM

Thank you for this timely reminder Dr Fuhrman. We've been eating the Nutritarian way for over 5 yrs. and have been enjoying the incredible health that it gives us. Hope that you and your family enjoy a wonderful holiday.


12/23/2017 06:01 PM

I cope by eating Nutritarian and making extras to bring and share if others want it just like I do all year. I’ve lost 100 pounds over the last several years and have gained so much in health and fitness so it’s just not worth it to derail all that I’ve done for a few meals that would make me feel miserable anyway. I will feel great eating what I make. Thanks for the reminders Dr. Fuhrman!

Lisa Fuhrman replies:

12/25/2017 06:14 AM

Congratulations on your 100 pound loss! I'm so glad you understand that eating poorly during the holidays is such a longterm loss; not worth it at all! In fact, I always feel good the next morning as I go through in my head what was offered vs. what I ate. I feel accomplished. Wishing you the best of health!


12/24/2017 07:58 PM

I have a damage heart after have complications in bypass surgery, So when i cheat on my nutritional food i start to feel it.

At parties & events i look for the most fruits & vegatables i can find. Thankfully there are a lot of health concious people these days.


just trying to stay alive

Lisa Fuhrman replies:

12/25/2017 06:17 AM

You can do it Randy! My Dad had a heart attack over 16 years ago (yes, he didn't follow the Nutritarian plan) and afterwards started eating Nutritarian; a few years ago, the cardiologist said that my dad's ejection fraction went back to normal; a phenomenon he never sees. So maybe your heart will improve as well. Keep up the good work! 


07/04/2019 09:33 PM

Cancer is knocking on my door. Hope your program can help me.