As written for Cabarrus Magazine December 2014 edition.
Enjoying holiday foods doesn’t mean you have to arrive at the New Year with weight gain, high cholesterol and blood sugar that tops the charts. Instead, make a plan that will help you enjoy every delicious bite of the holidays.
Take a Few Less Bites
First, find ways to take a few less bites. Aubrey Mast, MPH and certified health coach, recommends water.
“Let’s face it, at parties there are lots of good sweets and high calorie foods around and probably cocktails too,” says Mast, who is also the extension associate for nutrition at the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the NC Research Campus. “If you can keep your stomach semi-full with water, you are less likely to over indulge.”
“At parties,” adds Kermilya Simmons, Cabarrus Health Alliance nutritionist, “bring a healthy dish so you know one thing is good to eat.”
“Don’t starve yourself or skip meals,” she continues. “Eat normally so you don’t build up the appetite to stuff yourself.”
Mast agrees, “I’m a full believer in not depriving yourself. Enjoy what you are going to eat; however, cut a normal serving size in half. You get the ability to enjoy the bite without feeling deprived.”
Lighten Up Recipes
“I am a huge fan of any type of substitutions that you can make to enjoy the essence of holiday food but on a lighter side,” Simmons says.
She suggests mixing mashed cauliflower into your mashed potatoes to reduce fat and calories while increasing the nutritional value. Another idea is to replace candied yams with chunks of sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil and garnished with a tablespoon of brown sugar and cinnamon. Steam or sauté green beans adding slivered almonds versus fixing green bean casserole. Use more herbs and fresh vegetables like garlic, onions and celery to season foods and reduce sodium. Try seasoning meats with a smoked turkey wing instead of pork seasonings such as a ham hock.”
Mast recommends swapping white flour for almond or whole wheat flour to add fiber and additional nutrients to baked items. Instead of full-fat cream, use coconut milk and for butter, coconut oil, both contain heart healthy fats. For mac-n-cheese, try nutritional yeast, which is used in vegan dishes. It takes on the flavor of cheese, reduces the saturated fat and adds essential B vitamins.
“Exercise is available no matter where you are,” Mast reminds. “You can do wall pushups or lunges. You can put your feet under the bed and do some sit ups. You can run up and downstairs or stand in place rather than sitting down.”
“My family started a tradition that we play games instead of watching TV,” says Simmons, “Many games involve movement. If you are in the right climate, you can play volleyball or badminton. Do something active together.”
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you give in to temptation, it will probably be at dessert. Simmons advises, “Make a choice that is worth it. Go for what you want and enjoy it. If you must taste everything, get hors d’oeuvre sizes. Take a bite of everything, not a slice.”
Mast insists, “Since stress contributes to weight gain, don’t beat yourself up over holiday indulgences; just get back on track the next day.”
Additional ideas contributed from the NC Research Campus’ Facebook page:
Go outside after a holiday meal and play cornhole.
Take a long hike while the turkey is cooking.
Make everything fresh, no canned or boxed food, to cut out extra salt, sugar, and preservatives.
Don’t give food as gifts for the holiday. Find ways to spread holiday cheer without spreading everyone’s waistlines.
Eat something healthy- a piece of fruit or raw vegetables- before leaving for a party to not be so hungry when you get there.
Divide your plate so that half is salad and vegetables, one quarter is meat and one quarter is starches like potatoes and mac-n-cheese. That way you can taste everything and keep your meal balanced.