The Realist Guide To Holiday Nutrition

Turkey Dinner

Let’s face it. The holidays are coming, and with them come feelings of joy and merriment, nights spent round the fireplace and tables piled so densely with delicious food that they seem to have their own gravitational pull.

Who are you to resist the temptations that they offer? Sure, you’re “on a diet,” determined to make it through the holidays sidestepping those added pounds that’ll have you knocking down the door to the gym come January. But if you’ve found yourself year after year pledging to “really stick to it this time,” then guess what? You’re human. Most of us lack willpower during the holidays and most tables that you’ll sit down to won’t offer a wide variety of guilt-free dishes. Keeping that in mind, your real focus should be on weight maintenance, not loss.

What you really need is a way to justify your holiday habits to yourself and that growing horde of disbelievers in your family. So here are healthy spins on five of the most popular Thanksgiving indulgences – along with the cold, hard facts, just to keep you grounded. Don’t worry… it’ll be our little secret!

Turkey: “The reason for the season”

What to tell the folks: Turkey’s low in fat and high in protein! It’s also a great source of iron, phosphorous, B vitamins and zinc!

What to keep a secret: It has more cholesterol than you’d care to mention, and the fact that you’re drowning it in Aunt Willie’s signature “SupaFat Gravy” doesn’t help.

Cranberry Sauce: “Canned Candy”

What to tell the folks: It’s low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol!

What to keep a secret: Candy canes and cinnamon disks can boast the same claim, but in the end, they’re all essentially just different shapes of sugar.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes: “Dessert during dinner”

What to tell the folks: Yams are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, as well as a great source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. They’re a superfood!

What to keep a secret: The ¼ to 1½ cups of brown sugar and that oh-so-yummy layer of marshmallows that many recipes call for are what really do you in.

Macaroni and Cheese: “The seas of cheese”

What to tell the folks: Macaroni is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and cheddar cheese gives me all the calcium and protein I need!

What to keep a secret: You like to eat from the top layer where all of the cheesy saturated fat and sodium best make up for the macaroni’s shortcomings in those departments.

Pumpkin Pie: “Save room for pie love”

What to tell the folks: Just one slice arms me with almost two and a half times the USRDA of vitamin A, which is great for eyesight, healthy skin and boosting my immune system. Oh, the vitamin A!

What to keep a secret: Saturated fat 25%, cholesterol 22%, sodium 15%, too much sugar… IT’S PIE. Still, you can actually do a lot worse as far as desserts go.

In the end, all of the dishes listed depend largely on the recipe ingredients and the manner in which they’re prepared. Dishes such as stuffing and gravy were omitted because of the wide variety of potential ingredients in any given family’s recipe. You don’t need a masters in nutrition to tell you which is the healthier option between having roast turkey and shunning the skin or eating it deep-fried with all the trimmings. If you’re in the driver’s seat in the kitchen, try little shortcuts like subbing in margarine, using whole-wheat macaroni or mixing real cranberries into your sauce.

Use your best judgment, and remember: everything in moderation. These and other such easily attainable holiday health goals will be featured in my follow-up article, so be sure not to miss it!

(photo courtesy of Bhofack2/