If your household resembles mine during the holiday season, there is an ongoing excess of food during the holiday season. Luckily, among the overabundance of candy canes, shortcake cookies, chocolates and eggnog, there are also healthy foods widely available during the holiday season. However, spotting these healthy holiday foods, and eating the less healthy foods in moderation, can be difficult.
Follow the holiday food show-down to make healthier choices during the holidays and to ward off the dreaded holiday weight gain and keep your body performing at top notch.
Food Fight #1: Turkey versus ham
While both ham and turkey are good sources of protein, important for muscle growth and bone health, turkey is the clear winner over ham for two main reasons: fat and sodium. Both light meat and dark meat turkey, without skin, are leaner than most cuts of ham (2 grams versus 9 grams per 100 gram serving), saving on fat and calories. Secondly, ham is very high in sodium and most Canadians already eat too much sodium, putting us at greater risk of hypertension. Choosing turkey over ham will save about 800 mg per 100 gram serving. Remember to keep serving size (about the size of your palm) and toppings (cranberry sauce, gravy, etc) in check when choosing turkey.
Food Fight #2: Stuffing versus potatoes
The winner of this battle depends on the preparation methods used. In general, potatoes are much healthier than they typical stuffing. Potatoes are naturally low in fat and high in carbohydrates (needed for energy and sport performance), potassium (an essential mineral lost in sweat) and fibre (if eaten unpeeled; fibre is important for a healthy digestive system). But on the flip side, mashed potatoes are often peeled, boiled potatoes with excess butter and salt added. To allow potatoes’ natural health promoting properties to shine through, keep the peels on and mash them with low-sodium chicken stock, garlic and chives.
Stuffing typically consists of white bread, onions and eggs, baked inside of the turkey, but stuffing can also be healthy: substitute the white bread with whole grain bread, add extra vegetables such as celery, chopped spinach, mushrooms and peppers, and bake the stuffing separate from the turkey to reduce the risk of food born illness (stuffing cooked within the turkey often isn’t fully cooked and can therefore carry harmful bacteria).
Lastly, watch serving size. Balance your plate such that ½ of your plate is vegetables; ¼ is starch (healthy stuffing and/or mashed potatoes) and ¼ protein (turkey).
Food Fight #3: Cranberry sauce versus gravy
Natural cranberries are VERY healthy; they are low in sugar and high in anti-oxidants. However, cranberry sauce is often loaded with added sugar (about 38 grams per ½ cup serving), bring the calorie count of cranberry sauce similar to that of gravy 9each at about 150 kcal per ½ cup serving). Fortunately, both cranberry sauce and gravy can be made healthier.
When it comes to making holiday food choices, now you know, and knowing is half the battle. To survive the holidays, be sure to continue with goal setting and meal planning.
Here are some other healthy holiday options:
- Roasted chestnuts are lower in fat and calories than other nuts.
- Mandarin oranges make a great, easy snack or dessert.
- Gingerbread is lower in fat and sugar than most other holiday cookies and desserts.