Party ‘Tid-bites’: Making healthy choices
Damaris Karanja, MA
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist
Food is one of many pleasures of parties, holiday festivities, and other social gatherings at every time of the year. For many, the holiday season brings visions of candy, cookies and chocolate, but some traditional holiday foods can leave you guilt-free.
Healthy eating is all about making wise choices. Holiday eating is no exception. We often put our focus on what not to eat, but there are still many nutritional goodies in our traditional dinner that we should not overlook. Luckily the holidays feature many healthy foods. It is a matter of how they are prepared and consumed.
Where do you begin?
Pumpkin: Let’s not forget the pumpkin and its famous pie. Pumpkin pie tastes great this time of year and is an excellent source of nutrients. It is rich in Vitamin A, fiber and very low in calories until all the other ingredients are added. It is also loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene, which may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease, as well as some degenerative aspects of aging. Consider using an egg substitute, light cream or low-fat evaporated milk in your recipe. Go for a pie crust with the lowest amount of transfat possible.
Cranberries: This fruit adds more than just zip to your meals! Packed with Vitamin C, dietary fiber, manganese, and proanthocyanidins (a type of antioxidant to help prevent urinary tract infections), cranberries should be in our diets year round—not just the holidays. Cranberries add tangy flavor to everything from stuffing and sauces to beverages and barbecues.
Sweet potato: The versatile sweet potato is ideal for the health-conscious food consumer and rich in potassium and antioxidants like Vitamin C and beta-carotene. Cut them up like chips or steak fries and lightly coat them with light olive oil, sea salt and dried rosemary, then bake them in the oven. Leave the skin on for extra fiber; just make sure you wash the potato first. The flavor is incredible. You’ll feel better after eating this sweet potato rather than sweet potatoes that are “drowning” in butter, sugar and marshmallows.
Turkey: In addition to being an excellent source of protein, turkey offers the least amount of fat per serving, among all other meats, if you pass on the skin. If you love gravy, ask for a small custard cup or dish to put gravy in, and dip the meat instead of pouring it on.
Green beans: An all-time favorite is green bean casserole. Green beans are a very good source of Vitamin A, fiber, potassium, folate, and a good source of magnesium and riboflavin. Each of these nutrients plays a significant cardio-protective role. Green bean casserole in a traditional Thanksgiving meal is rather high in calories as it contains butter, cream of mushroom and cheese. This dish can be made with lower fat options like low- fat cream soup and still tastes great without the guilt.
Other holiday treats
Nuts, dates, figs and dried fruit are popular holiday treats and can provide significant health benefits too. Nuts have mostly unsaturated fat, making them healthier choices. Serve nuts as snacks, like pecans, walnuts, almonds and peanuts in casseroles and salads, or in cookies and cakes.
Finally, just because you are trying to eat healthfully doesn’t mean you need to avoid celebrations or accept a few extra pounds. Forget the all-or-nothing mind-set. Depriving yourself of special holiday foods, or feeling guilty when you do enjoy them, isn’t a healthful eating strategy. And deprivation and guilt certainly are not part of the holiday spirit!
Duyff, R. (2006). American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (3rd ed.).
John Wiley & Sons. American Dietetic Association: http://www.eatright.org