Treat Yourself This Season – To the Benefits of a Healthier Menu!

The days are short and the air is becoming crisper. That means we’re wearing more layers and moving our activities indoors. The new season and cooler months also bring a focus on time spent with family and friends.  A few special holiday meals will be enjoyed while the comforts of the holidays surround us.  This special approach to mealtime brings plenty of positive emotions, but there are some other aspects to the meal that tend to sneak up on us and put a damper on our holiday fun. Yes, I’m talking about those high fat, high sugar and sodium-rich recipes. Some of our favorite holiday dishes may cause a shift in our body’s weight as well as our blood’s delicate balance of fats, sugars and sodium. This is especially true for those of us dealing with excess weight and chronic health issues tied to diet and activity such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease. Here are a few pointers that may help you enjoy your holiday food and fellowship.

If you’re the cook

Ingredient replacement. Experiment with new recipes or replace ingredients in the old ones! Replacing solid and saturated fats such as butter and shortening with lower-fat oils such as olive and grapeseed is a good start! This chart is a great reference for replacing butter with olive oil in your favorite recipes:

(Image credit: Fooducate)

Spices vs. salt. High-sodium meals leave us feeling sluggish and bloated, and are especially problematic for anyone with high blood pressure. The first thing to examine is your food products: Are there any highly processed or boxed foods that you could make from scratch? Packaged gravies and sauces are major culprits; look for low-sodium versions of these foods or, better still, make your own. Next, you can take the salt right off the table. The savory traditional foods for holiday meals can remain full flavored and delicious even without extra salt. Savory spices used to flavor these dishes can also deliver health benefits. Instead of piling on the salt or gravy try a fresh or dried herb. They carry minerals and vitamins as well as powerful antioxidants! Here are some great options to spice up those dishes:

Rethink your drink. Hot chocolates, eggnogs and spiced lattes may dance like sugar plums in your head, and those fancy ciders and sodas that come special for the season may also be on your shopping list. If you have the added challenge of balancing your blood sugars this season you may need to strongly consider a ban on these drinks. If you must indulge, choose a small glass at mealtimes as a treat and choose water or unsweetened tea the remainder of the day. For your family and friends tempted to consume the sweet beverages throughout the day, provide an equally appealing and more refreshing option such as spa water. Add some fresh fruit, herbs and even some vegetables (cucumbers or celery are good choices) to your iced water and have a generous portion on hand in a pitcher or drink dispenser for convenience. Use sparkling water for your spa water blend for a fancier mealtime beverage. The CDC’s Rethink Your Drink campaign is a great resource for checking the sugar content of beverages. Visit the website for a calorie and sugar breakdown of popular beverages.

Note: If you are on hemodialysis, you often need to control fluid intake of any kind. Read more about hemodialysis tips here.

If you’re a dinner guest

Here is a quick list to help you make better choices at the table!

  • Get in a healthy mindset before you even sit down. Don’t skip meals in anticipation of the main gathering; make sure you are fueling your body so it will be easier to make good decisions later.
  • Use a smaller plate! Smaller plates limit the room for portions, meaning you’ll eat less.
  • Go light on heavy sauces and gravies.
  • Boost your body’s function by avoiding high-fat foods.
  • Add flavor to your menu with herbs and spices to increase your antioxidant intake and lessen bloat and high blood pressure by lowering salt content.
  • Enjoy the sweetness of the moments with loved ones by choosing water over sugary drinks.
  • Seek out higher-fiber and nutrient-dense options such as the green salad instead of the high sugar ambrosia or whole-wheat rolls rather than white rolls or high-fat biscuits. You’ll lower your sugar and fat intake and your body will use that fiber to pull excess fats and sugars from your intestines.
  • Choose your dessert wisely.  Pumpkin pie is a lower-calorie option than pecan pie. Even better, fresh fruit or sugar-free gelatin can offer you the sweetness you are seeking without the high fat content.
  • When it’s all over find a light activity to do. A walk outside, a game of hide and seek with the kids or a friendly game of backyard football are great ways to add some movement to your holidays. This will aid in digestion as well as help your body clear sugar from the blood stream and burn off some extra calories. Don’t let a nap steal your calorie-burning opportunities!

Whether you’re managing a chronic disease, watching your weight or fighting off a cold, your food choices this holiday will affect your health for better or worse.

May you have much to be thankful for and may joy abound!


Posted: | Author: Laura Elkins, R.D.

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