Now that the holiday season is in full swing, most of us are struggling to eat healthy when there are so many goodies everywhere we go! While you many not be able to stop the chocolate truffles or loaves of gingerbread from appearing in the office, you do have the choice to make Good Decisions... Most of the Time. As a Nutritionist, I am always aware of a few key diet changes to make, especially when the holidays roll around. These top 5 tips will help you to feel your best this season, and maybe even help you keep off those few extra sugar cookie pounds!
1. Give the Boot to Wheat
Nutritionists know that pasta, bread, crackers, and flour break down rapidly in the body, creating a surge in blood sugar levels that the body has to work hard to compensate for. In addition, The New England Journal of Medicine lists fifty-five diseases that can be caused by eating gluten found in wheat [I]. The top five are celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhea, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and diabetes. Conventional hybridized wheat can no longer be considered a healthy food. But don’t let that throw you into a panic because there are many ways life can be enjoyed without the downfalls of wheat.
- Instead of making a bread stuffing, choose a wild rice stuffing.
- Instead of using flour to thicken gravy, purée sautéed mushrooms into the sauce and let it simmer to reduce and thicken.
- Skip the dinner roll!
- Instead of bread crumbs on green beans, try caramelized shallots (as we did in this recipe).
- Try a crust-less pecan pie or pumpkin pie. These hold their shape very well and are extremely delicious!
2. Ditch Conventional Dairy
Conventional dairy cows are fed an unnatural diet of genetically modified corn, antibiotics, growth hormones, and chicken and pig slaughter byproducts. These substances make their way into the milk and dairy products that end up on your table and in your body. People who have penicillin allergies will sometimes react to meat or dairy products because of the amount of antibiotics in them. Nutritionists see many people who do not have allergies to wheat or dairy, but have a sensitivity to them that can create inflammation in the body and can prevent them from feeling their best. If you are unsure how well you do with these two foods, try eliminating them and see if any potential symptoms change.
- Instead of using cream in a soup, find a recipe without it, such as butternut squash soup or a mushroom soup with sherry.
- Almond milk can often be a delicious alternative to dairy. It is also easy to make as home.
- Use coconut milk or coconut whipped cream on desserts. Yum!
3. Skip Out on Soy
If you are a vegetarian, consider passing on the Tofurky this year. Soybeans are high in phytic acid and other natural toxins known as “anti-nutrients.” In an effort to remove the anti-nutrients from soy products, soybeans are taken through a series of chemical processes that include acid washing in aluminum tanks, which puts an undesirable heavy metal into the final soy products. For human consumption, soybeans must be fermented to reduce the mineral-blocking effects of phytates. Raw soybeans, including the immature green form, are actually toxic to humans. While organic, properly-prepared soy products are difficult to find, in time, as consumer demand increases, they will become more readily available.
- Choose from products that are fermented, which include Natto, Amakaze, Miso, and Tempeh.
4. Say Goodbye to Sugar
Diabetes, a disease once found only in adults, no longer discriminates; the number of children with diabetes is on the rise. Have you ever tried to take your kids off sugar by removing or reducing their high-sugar breakfast cereals, only to give in because their resulting behavior is worse than giving in and allowing them their treats? Or have you noticed your own behavior when you’ve tried to remove sweets such as ice cream, bread, or even sweetened coffee from your diet— only to fall off the wagon because of mood swings, mental fog, and headaches? Skip the holiday fog this year by keeping sugar to a minimum. If a holiday without something sweet seems inconceivable, here are a few naturally sweet alternatives.
- Sweeten holiday pies with natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey.
- Consider roasting a pear or an apple as a fun and sweet alternative.
- Honey and cinnamon roasted figs are romantic Christmas sweets.
- Instead of candy, try a delicious chocolate covered date!
5. Rocket Launch Margarine
Back in the 1980s, doctors and nutritionists were telling people that they should replace butter with margarine because it was cholesterol free. Professional organizations like the American Heart Association were telling physicians that they should be promoting it. In reality, there was never any evidence that these margarines (which were actually high in trans fat) were any better than butter. As it turned out, they were actually far worse.
- Good old-fashioned butter!
- Ghee, a clarified butter that is stable for cooking at high temperatures.
It's ok if some of these suggestions don't quite tickle your fancy. You may still decide to enjoy your holiday with wild abandon! We can't argue because life is too short not to enjoy a delicious holiday dinner and dessert. But when you make Good Decisions... Most of the Time your body is well equipped to handle the occasional indulgence. So enjoy yourself thoroughly and don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon or give in to the upcoming holiday temptations.
These suggestions are ways nutritionists take unhealthy food and make them just a little bit healthier. They can easily be incorporated after the holiday carnage is over and you contemplate that New Year’s resolution. Perhaps you will consider a lifestyle where you make peace with food, and test out the idea of genuinely making Good Decisions…Most of the Time. We're here to support you!
[I] Farrell RJ, Kelly CP. "Celiac sprue". N Engl J Med. 2002 Jan 17;346(3):180-8. Review. Web. October. 2016. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra010852>.