There is no avoiding the temptation of holiday foods. While it may seem that everything is loaded with calories, unhealthy fat, and sugar, even a small effort to pick something more nutritious can make a big difference. Use these tips to help you navigate the food table and make healthier choices at Thanksgiving.
Roasted Turkey vs. Fried Turkey
Choosing roasted turkey saves both calories and fat. When making roasted turkey, healthier fats, such as olive oil, and fresh herbs are used to give the meat flavor. In fried turkey, additional flavors come from the fat used during frying. Frying foods uses refined oils and, because the bird is left in contact with the oil, there is more fat per serving. Whichever turkey you choose, stick with the white meat for a leaner source of protein.
Vegetables vs. Casseroles
Casseroles are notorious for unhealthy ingredients such as high-sodium canned soups and high-fat processed cheeses. Choosing roasted or sauteed vegetables that have not been doused with butter or cream sauces will save you calories and saturated fat.
Mashed Potatoes vs. Sweet Potatoes
While sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes, the large amount of butter in sweet potato casserole makes it not much better for you than mashed white potatoes. Traditional holiday preparations of sweet potatoes are also plagued with added sugar in the form of brown sugar, syrup, or marshmallows. Make sweet potatoes your dessert or skip them altogether. If you are preparing the sweet potatoes, make them healthier by blending the potatoes with low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock in place of the excess butter and cream.
Fresh Cranberry Relish vs. Cranberry Sauce
Fresh cranberries can be chopped in a food processor with ingredients like orange juice, orange zest, herbs, and unsalted nuts for an easy relish or cranberry salsa. A sprinkle of sugar will tame the tartness and allow you to consume much less than what is found in a traditional cranberry sauce.
Rolls vs. Biscuits and Muffins
Most rolls are simply made with yeast, water, flour, and salt. They don’t become high in fat or sugar until butter or honey is added at the table. Whole grain rolls can even provide a little fiber to your meal. Similar offerings, such as cheese biscuits and corn muffins, have extra fat due to butter and eggs. If you don’t want to skip this side altogether, choose a whole grain roll over other options.
Pumpkin Pie vs. Pecan Pie
The nuts, syrup, and butter in pecan pie causes both the calories and fat content to soar. While pumpkin pie still contains fat and sugar, it is a lower calorie choice. You can save even more calories by choosing a crustless pumpkin pie or stick with a simple pumpkin pudding.
Spritzers vs. Cocktails
Spritzers are made by adding club soda to an ounce or two of 100% fruit juice. It makes a festive drink without excess calories from alcohol. If you do choose to have an alcoholic drink, use club sodas and flavored, unsweetened sparkling waters to your advantage. Make a white wine spritzer, or use sparkling beverages to top off your drink instead of using high-sugar, pre-made cocktail mixers.
There is no reason to miss out on holiday meals. Your eating and exercise patterns leading up to a big celebration can allow you to enjoy special foods and drinks without ruining your fitness plan.
Commit to your morning workout.
The calories burned during exercise add up to offset the extra calories you eat. Sticking with your workouts helps control weight gain during the holiday season. Don’t skip workouts on the days you have planned celebrations. Also avoid putting off exercise until later in the day. It’s much too easy for last-minute invitations or errands to steal the time you’d planned to spend at the gym. A morning workout will guarantee you fit it in.
Lighten up for a few days.
Lightening up doesn’t mean skipping meals to prepare for overeating. It does mean making smart food choices that are satisfying and dense in nutrients. Choose more fruits, vegetables and lean protein to get the nutrients you need and to keep you feeling full. Limiting carbohydrates and fat will give you more wiggle room in your eating plan to enjoy favorite holiday foods.
Keep stress to a minimum.
You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can take steps to control how you react to stressful situations. You might be nervous to attend a party or feel overwhelmed with all you have to do. These feelings can lead to overeating. Stress also impacts sleep in a way that can lead to hormonal imbalances, hunger, and cravings. Identify what is stressing you out, and take steps to resolve it. Incorporate stress-relieving activities like meditation and regular exercise.
Don’t go to a party or attend a dinner buffet without giving some thought to your game plan. Set rules for yourself and stick to them. Enjoy one cocktail, choose dessert over an appetizer, or skip the dinner rolls and have a small scoop of mashed potatoes. By creating balance with your meal and making trade-offs for those things you want to enjoy, you can stay in control of your calorie intake and weight loss.
During the holidays, we are constantly offered unhealthy meals and high-calorie desserts. Healthy eating may seem impossible, but the truth is, you have more control than you think. On the days you have parties to attend, take special care to eat healthily before and after those events. Meals should be low-calorie and loaded with fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Limit snacking, and choose a healthy smoothie instead of a pastry for breakfast on the days you have social events. Taking control of the times you are not celebrating can help you avoid holiday weight gain.
Apply the one trip rule.
Make a second trip to the food table off limits. Carefully look over the selection, and take only those foods that are special to the occasion. By limiting yourself to one plate of food, you exercise portion control. Keeping portions in check will allow you to enjoy a few of your favorite foods without consuming too many calories.
Think in bites.
It’s natural to want a little bit of everything when you are faced with numerous options. In order to enjoy more without excess calories, think of each serving you take in bites. Take only a spoonful that requires two to three bites to finish. When you slow down your eating and mindfully consume your meal, you will find that you are satisfied with these few bites, and you will keep yourself from becoming uncomfortably full.
Fill up on fiber.
Fiber-rich foods keep you feeling full and reduce the urge to snack on leftover cookies and candies. Fill your plate with salads, roasted vegetables, and choose whole grains.
Keep your water bottle handy throughout the day, and make sipping a regular practice. Often when we let ourselves get thirsty, it can present itself as hunger and lead to mindless snacking. With so many extra treats around this time of year, this can put you at risk for blowing your calorie budget.
Whether you want to build more muscle or maintain it as you shed pounds, the foods you eat are as important as your workouts. The right balance of nutrients will give your body what it needs to support muscle growth or maintenance.
Don't skimp on calories.
The number of calories you need will depend on whether your goal is to bulk up or lose pounds. In both cases, getting enough calories is important. Nutrient-dense calories will give the muscles the necessary fuel to repair and build tissue. When trying to lose weight, failing to eat the calories recommended to reach your goal could cause a breakdown and loss of muscle tissue.
Eat enough protein.
Protein should make up 10-35 percent of your daily calorie intake. Many nutrition experts recommend eating 1 gram of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight (0.4 g per pound).
Consuming too much protein may be harmful to the body. Some research shows this puts stress on the kidneys and liver as they try to breakdown and excrete the extra protein.
Eat protein from a variety of sources.
A healthy diet is one that is composed of a variety of foods because each contributes unique nutrients. Eat a variety of lean protein from plant or animal sources. Beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds provide plant-based protein along with fiber and phytonutrients that protect against disease. Poultry, eggs, and dairy provide essential amino acids and minerals. But it is possible to consume the protein you need through a vegetarian diet. Whichever eating style you choose, the variety and quality of protein are what is important.
Get the timing right.
Instead of loading each meal with more protein-rich food, try spreading your protein intake out among your meals and snacks. Add an egg or grilled fish to salads, stir roasted tofu and beans into rice, add nut butters to fresh fruit, and top oatmeal or yogurt with seeds. If your goal is to lose weight and maintain muscle, spreading protein out in this way is a good strategy. It will keep you feeling full throughout the day. If your goal is to build muscle mass, the timing of your food intake becomes more important. Replenish depleted muscles with a meal or snack balanced in both protein and carbohydrate within 30 minutes of your workouts.
Comfort foods can satisfy cravings and bring back fond memories, but many are loaded with unhealthy fat and calories. Seeking out the most nutritious options and making minor changes to old favorites are good ways to incorporate more healthy comfort foods into your eating plan.
Choose foods that contain more than carbohydrates.
Some comfort foods, such as stuffing, casseroles and rolls, contain little more than refined carbohydrates. Look to foods that have nutritional benefit beyond carbs. Pasta can be topped with antioxidant-rich vegetables, sweet potatoes provide fiber and vitamins, and stews with roasted meats or beans supply protein. While these options may not be the perfect health food, they do offer something that your body needs. Eat a small portion and focus on the positive components.
Add extra vegetables.
Vegetables add delicious flavor and fiber to fill you up. They are low in calories, so you can eat larger portions while consuming fewer calories. You will also benefit from the extra vitamins and minerals that these ingredients provide. Casseroles can be loaded with carrots and broccoli, pureed cauliflower can be added to mashed potatoes, and seasonal salads can have extra shredded cabbage and other greens stirred in.
Don’t overcook it.
Some nutrients in fruits and vegetables are boosted by light cooking, but cooking these foods until they are mushy can deplete much of their nutritional benefit. Cook stewed greens only until they are wilted and allow green beans to stay somewhat crisp. Roast carrots just until they are tender. Don’t precook vegetables, like broccoli, before adding them to casseroles that need to be baked. The more vibrant and crunchy the fruits and vegetables remain, the better they will hang on to some of their nutrients.
It only takes a taste.
When you are faced with your favorite comfort foods without control of the cooking, switch your focus to portion sizes. Serve yourself with a kitchen spoon, not a large serving utensil. Take only enough for three small bites. This will allow you to mindfully enjoy the first taste of the food along with two follow up bites to lengthen the experience and satisfy your cravings.