NEW GTJ Health Series: 7 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

With Thanksgiving upon us, and Hanukkah and New Years quickly approaching, even the healthiest eater can be tempted by holiday treats.  Lucky for you, GTJ is here with a helping of tips to limit the damage on your waistline while still allowing you to enjoy this festive season.   Below I serve up a 7 course meal of suggestions to help get you through the holidays.

Tip #1: The Best Defense is a Strong Offense.  Eat Breakfast!

While it can be tempting to skip meals or limit your calories substantially in anticipation of large holiday meals, this may be harming you more than you think.  Research from the Journal of American Dietetic Association among others, suggests that those  eat breakfast have lower BMIs (body mass index), are less depressed, and have better cognitive performance.  Conversely, those avoiding breakfast have an increase in appetite later in the day that often causes overeating and weight gain.

Take home point: Eat a well-balanced breakfast with lean protein (like nonfat yogurt or milk) and fiber rich foods (like oatmeal or fiber rich cereal) to limit overeating at your latka feast.

Tip #2: Limit the Alcoholwho

For many, alcohol can be vital part of getting through extended holiday time with family.  In reality, alcohol will hijack your healthy eating plans.  First of all, alcohol is empty calories-it has no nutritional value and our body often fails to register that you consumed these calories which leads you to eat more to compensate.  Second, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes fluid loss and thus dehydration.  As we get more dehydrated, we get thirsty and drink more of these empty calories.  Lastly, alcohol lessens inhibitions and induces overeating, making even the most diligent partygoer a latke hog.

Tip #3: Hold Off on the Appetizers:

My Aunt Jan is famous for her spinach dip at Thanksgiving.  At many holiday parties there are large tables of these dips, treats, and other foods that are high in salt and fat.  Just like that nosey relative, there is just one strategy: Stay away!  Position yourself away from the appetizer tables; this will help you avoid the tendency to eat what’s in front of you.  If seeing and hearing your family snack around you causes you to want to snack, you’re not alone.  One strategy to get around this is to keep yourself occupied with a cup of water or low calorie beverage in  hand or chewing sugarless gum while others are snacking.

Tip #4: Limit the Gravy and Sour Cream

The eternal debate between apple sauce and sour cream for official topping of the latke will last forever (see The Leevees song “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream” for a synopsis of the arguments), but the debate over which is healthier has long been settled.  One tablespoon (and who only uses a tbsp. of sour cream?) of sour cream has 31 calories, of which 86% are fat.  So if you’re enjoying a couple of latkas and add a reasonable 5 tablespoons of sour cream, you are adding on 15g of fat.  Stick to the applesauce!

Gravy is similarly fatty.  One simple tip to limit homemade gravy’s fat- refrigerate the gravy to harden the fat overnight and then skim it off, this will eliminate over half of the gravy’s fat content.

Tip #5: Savor the Food You Eat

When deciding what foods to eat at a holiday feast, select and savor your favorites even if a couple are less healthy.  By enjoying the foods you do eat, you will feel less guilty and more full of holiday cheer.

Tip #6: Eat Your Veggies

Your mom was right- you should eat your vegetables.  They are jam packed with vitamins and antioxidants that help detoxify our bodies and protect us from cancer.  Vegetables are also full of fiber that helps make us feel full.  So pile on the grilled and steamed vegetables (avoid higher fat options like fried or those with heavy sauces).  Healthy examples include lemon grilled kale and butternut squash, or mashed sweet potato and toasted almond green beans.

Tip #7: Choose one Desert to Savor

If you’re anything like me one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving or Hanukkah meal are the desserts.  All of them.  But rather than sampling every single pumpkin pie or jelly doughnut, pick your favorite and savor it.  Feel the texture of every bite and enjoy it.  And grab a slice for your grandma, she’ll love you for it.

Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at Alexander_Berger@med.unc.edu.