By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N., JM Nutrition
Holiday foods you should select to help you maintain weight during the holiday season.
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of the late December holiday season is the delicious, hard-to-resist food found at many office parties and family get-togethers. Unfortunately, however, there exists a downside to all these wonderful indulgences: the dreaded post-festive period weight gain.
If you happen to have one eye on your plate and the other on your waistline or health in general, and still want to enjoy those delicious holiday foods, here is an approach you might consider.
Which ones should I eat? Which ones should I cut back on or avoid altogether?
Choose Sweet Potatoes Over Mashed Potatoes
As traditional and delicious as they are, mashed potatoes are often loaded with a generous serving of fatty milk.
We then often smear these potatoes with a heaping tablespoon or two of butter or margarine which, while largely improving the taste of the potatoes, add fat and extra calories to this Christmas staple.
In addition, potatoes are a starch, and therefore, high in carbohydrates, so eat sparingly if weight loss or weight maintenance is your goal.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s another side to the potato.
Potatoes are nutritious as they contain potassium, Vitamin C and antioxidants, so don’t cut back on them completely. Just beware of how much you’re eating, and especially, what you’re putting in them.
A more healthy alternative to mashed potatoes is the sweet potato.
For one, sweet potatoes are flavourful and… sweet, which means they can stand on their own much more easily. There’s no need for additions such as milk or butter. Just sprinkle a little pepper or extra-virgin olive oil, if you feel that the sweet potato needs a little company, and you’ve got a wonderfully filling side dish.
Two, sweet potatoes are full of essential nutrients and vitamins, which provide proper fuel for the busy time that is the holiday season.
Read more about sweet potatoes from livescience.com.
Turkey: Choose White Meat Over Dark Meat
Turkey has become a food staple in many western countries and it is consumed regularly. It is also one of the holiday foods found on virtually every traditional Christmas dinner table.
White turkey meat
Turkey per se is lean and healthy, particularly the white meat.
White meat contains less saturated fat and fewer calories. So if you’re worried about weight gain, whether during the holiday season or at any other time, eat more white meat as it will help to keep your weight in check.
Dark turkey meat
On the other hand, dark meat contains more iron and zinc—essential micronutrients for your body—so there is always a flipside to every argument. If you’re deficient in the these nutrients, then perhaps you should not discard the dark meat even if trying to lose weight.
Choose Roasted Turkey or Chicken Over Ham
Although ham, one of the most popular holiday foods, carries considerable protein and iron, it is also high in sodium. As not all hams are created equal, some contain more sodium than others. I recommend checking the food label for this information before making the purchase at the grocery store.
In addition, ham tends to have a higher saturated fat content than other, more healthy holiday foods such as turkey or chicken.
For these reasons alone, ham should be consumed sparingly.
Roasted turkey or chicken
Roasted turkey or chicken are the healthier holiday foods.
They’re both excellent sources of protein, iron, zinc and potassium. They also contain a number of essential vitamins.
In addition to these wonderful benefits, turkey and chicken are low in saturated fat and low in cholesterol, making them one of the ideal holiday foods for those looking to enjoy eating during the festive period in a more reasonably healthy way.
Choose Wine Over Eggnog
When consumed in moderation, or better yet, in small amounts, wine can be of benefit for the health-conscious person.
As I mentioned in How to Choose Wine and Drink It without Gaining Weight, certain wines act as the more healthy alternatives to many other sugar-laden alcoholic drinks and cocktails that do nothing but tack on the pounds.
When buying wine, choose the one that contains less sugar. You should be checking the price label at the liquor store because it often indicates the sugar content of the given wine bottle.
Generally speaking, red wine contains less sugar than white wine. Some wines, particularly dessert wines like Moscato or ice wine, are very high in sugar, and as such, should be consumed in small amounts or not at all—if weight loss or weight maintenance are a priority.
With that said, many low-sugar white wines can be found, so you don’t have to say adieu to your favourite aperitif.
It is also wise to select wines with a lower alcohol content (ABV=Alcohol By Volume). Alcohol is highly caloric, so the higher the alcohol content of the wine, the higher the calorie count.
In addition to the fact that wine contains less sugar than other alcoholic drinks, it contains some antioxidants too, which can be of great benefit to your body.
So why not eggnog?
Well, it’s a triple whammy.
Eggnog is no doubt delicious, filling and one of the more popular holiday foods, er drinks. But as heavenly as it may taste, eggnog is about as unhealthy as it gets.
Even a small cup of this Christmas goodness packs on the calories like no other.
Eggnog is also very high in fat—the bad kind—so it can no doubt sabotage your weight goals.
If this weren’t enough, eggnog is high in cholesterol.
If you absolutely cannot forego this liquid libation during the holiday season, take a sip or two, and then set it down on the table and find a healthier sipping drink.
Need more information on eggnog? Read this article from Livestrong.com.
Choose Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Over Salad Dressing in a Bottle
Bottled salad dressing
The Caesar, Ranch, French and Italian salad dressings, often find their way onto a dinner table in many of today’s homes, largely because of their taste and convenience.
Unfortunately, however, it is wise to steer clear of these dressings if you want to keep trim.
One, they’re high in fat.
Two, they’re high in salt.
Three, they contain additives and preservatives.
Four, they may contain hidden sugars.
Five, they contribute extra, unnecessary calories.
On account of these facts, they should be used only on occasion and in very small portions.
Extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
If your goal is to eat healthily, keeping your weight in check, choose extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead.
Why extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar?
Well, they both have anti-oxidative properties. Olive oil is a healthy unsaturated fat and a good source of Vitamins E and K.
Meanwhile, balsamic vinegar is low in sugar when compared to the average salad dressing. Together, they contain less salt, fat and sugar than their bottled counterparts.
So if weight loss or weight maintenance are of great importance to you during the holiday season, you know which way you should be dressing your salad.
Choose Whole Grain or Sprouted Bread Over White Bread
Nutritionally speaking, white bread is simply less healthy than whole or sprouted grain.
White bread is lower in fibre, zinc, magnesium and other essential nutrients and vitamins.
As the bread is processed, the nutrients are stripped down, leaving little nutritional value. During this stage, the bran and the germ are removed, only leaving the endosperm—otherwise known as the starchy part. This starch is then converted by our bodies into sugar.
Whole grain and sprouted bread
Whole grain bread has a lower glycemic index, which means it is absorbed and digested more slowly, resulting in a lower rise in glucose and insulin. And that’s a good thing. This can help maintain weight.
Sprouted bread is also an excellent alternative as it has been touted by many health experts as the best thing since sliced bread. To discover its many benefits take a look at this article.
Here’s a tip: When buying bread, the general rule of thumb is the darker the bread, the healthier.
Choose Pumpkin Pie Over Pecan Pie
Whether you go for pumpkin or pecan pie one thing is certain: you won’t leave your taste buds disappointed. In addition to being tasty, these pies possess some nutritional value as well.
For instance, pumpkin contains a good deal of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and fibre. Pecans also deliver considerable fibre along with healthy fats, manganese, as well as copper, thiamine and magnesium–albeit in smaller amounts.
But it’s not all roses in pumpkin and apple pieland. Both of these popular holiday foods contain not-so-healthy ingredients, namely the crust, butter, some sort of cream or shortening, and often sugar.
But as far as nutrition and weight management are concerned, I recommend you choose pumpkin pie over pecan pie.
Pecan pie is high in fat because pecans are high in fat–much higher than pumpkin. This tacks on the calories along with unwanted weight, if you indulge regularly. Additionally, this delicious but unhealthy pecan treat brims with corn syrup and sugar—ingredients hardly conducive for keeping trim and healthy.
What’s the most unhealthy part in pumpkin pie? The crust. Sugar is present; however, the amount pales in comparison to that found in your average pecan pie.
In other words, if you feel you must indulge in dessert this holiday season, and if presented with two choices, pumpkin or pecan pie, be sure to select the former.
Choose Hummus Over Store-Bought Vegetable Dips
Vegetable platters find their way onto just about every holiday dinner table. They also make regular appearances as appetizers at get-togethers and parties. Often accompanying the healthy, nutritious vegetables, is the vegetable dip. These two are virtually inseparable and frequently consumed together.
Store-bought vegetable dips
Store-bought vegetable dips usually contain a high amount of fat, sugar and/or salt, as well as other additives. If you just cannot bite into that celery or carrot stick without submerging them first in a dip, consider hummus instead.
A Middle-Eastern and East Mediterranean staple, hummus acts as a healthy alternative to many other dips. It contains a good amount of protein, fibre, and other nutrients and minerals. Although hummus does contain fat—it’s the unsaturated kind, the good kind.
Hummus is also a complex carbohydrate, which doesn’t just give you a quick surge of energy, followed by a sudden and swift crash. The energy is released slowly over time, as a result of which you don’t get that spike in blood sugar.
Last but not least, hummus is delicious—a good reason alone to add it to your diet.
Choosing hummus should go a long way in helping you to maintain weight, provided you don’t scoop it by the tablespoon.
More about hummus from huffingtonpost.com.
Choose Salmon Over Steak
Before I upset the die-hard carnivores who need steak like they need air, hear me out.
Although steak, much like other red meat, provides a healthy dose of protein, iron and zinc—all essential for a healthy body—it can also be high in saturated fat, contributing to raised cholesterol levels.
If eaten often and in substantial amounts, and not burned off through exercise, steak can also contribute to a larger waistline, especially when eaten with all the other unhealthy holiday foods around the holidays.
The bad news doesn’t end there. Red meat may contain traces of antibiotics and hormones, which can surely wreak long-term havoc on your system, contributing to weight gain and other health ailments.
Now I’m not suggesting to cut out steak completely—just reduce the portion and frequency, and perhaps replace it with salmon or a leaner meat whenever possible. Doing so can help you to maintain weight.
A great source of omega-3s, protein and many other vitamins (D, B12, B3, B6, B5) and minerals, salmon is also much lower in fat than our previously discussed friend, the steak, effectively acting as a great way to intake protein while preventing weight gain.
Just keep in mind that most salmon carries mercury, so don’t eat every day. Choose wild Pacific salmon, or even better wild Alaskan salmon as these fish contain lower levels of mercury when compared with Atlantic salmon.
Read this great article on salmon and its many benefits from Healthline.
Choose Goat Cheese Over Cow Cheese
Goat cheese over cow cheese? What’s the difference?
Goat cheese is the healthier option because it carries fewer calories and has significantly less sodium. It is also richer in certain vitamins and nutrients (Vitamins A, B, D and K, as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron).
Perhaps more importantly, goat cheese is easier to digest because it contains less lactose. For people whose systems react negatively when lactose is taken in, goat cheese acts as a great alternative because it does not cause the same disruption to your digestion. Being similarly structured to human milk, our digestive systems take it in with much more ease as well.
Cow milk, on the other hand, has larger molecules, making it harder to digest. It also contains more alpha S1 casein protein, which has been linked to allergies in some studies.
For all these reasons, choosing goat cheese can prove helpful when trying to lose or maintain weight.
Choose Spaghetti Squash Over Pasta
If you’re genuinely trying to maintain weight during the festive period, or any other period for that matter, and are looking for healthy holiday foods to eat, I urge you to try spaghetti squash instead of regular pasta.
The reason for this is simple. Spaghetti squash contains fewer calories and carbohydrates than pasta. In addition, it is nutrient- and vitamin-rich when compared to pasta.
Those clients of mine who have tried making this substitution a regular occurrence have experienced some form of weight loss.
For a more detailed comparison read this great article from livestrong.com.
The above suggestions are just some of the many ways you can make healthier holiday season food choices that can go a long way in helping you maintain weight.
You don’t have to try all the suggestions I describe. You shouldn’t have to feel deprived. But I encourage you to try to incorporate a few of these changes for weight maintenance and better overall health.
Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic Toronto nutritionist who has been counseling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2018 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.