A balanced diet is essential for proper functioning of the entire body. We get calories from everything we eat: from coffee to lattes, shrimp to steak, fruits and vegetables, and everything in between. A calorie, simply put, is the amount of energy that food will produce in the human body. What’s most important, however, is the source of the calorie. If your diet is full of processed and fast foods, alcohol, sugary drinks or white breads, you may be eating what is termed “empty calories”. These food-stuffs cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, which makes one feel energetic at the onset, but then experience a rapid crash; the body then feels hungry once again, and chances are, if you grabbed a piece of pie or cheesy mashed potatoes for the last bite, you may do the same again. During the holiday seasons we may be tempted to eat everything presented on the serving tables; however, with a few quick tips, you can still enjoy the holiday dining without over-doing the calories.
Holiday meals and parties can be safely navigated by following these helpful tips:
1. Choose whole and sprouted grains instead of white-breads or dense dinner rolls.
2. Snack on a rainbow-colored array of vegetables and fruits, and offer to bring the tray if you know the event may be limited in fresh whole foods.
3. Grab a ¼ cup of raw nuts and seeds, and enjoy them alongside a fruit. The long acting, clean burning fats in the nuts will help keep a tab on your appetite.
4. Choose lean protein such as turkey, chicken, and wild-caught fish or shrimp, lean beef cuts, or bring deviled eggs made with a real mayonnaise or vegan-variety. The proteins break down slowly and help increase satiety and prevent cravings later.
5. When going around the dinner table or snack bar, take a tablespoon of the foods you’d like to eat, not a heaping serving spoon size, so as to enjoy all the foods you love without overdoing the portion sizes.
6. Chew your food slowly; enjoy and savor the flavors and the company around you. Take time to converse while eating and put the fork down. This minimizes over-eating.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages. While it’s fine to raise a glass of vino to toast to good friends and food, alcohol is a number one offender for increasing blood sugar levels and adding extra empty calories in the body. The general rule is two 4 ounce glasses of wine or liquor for men, and one for women. Avoid beer whenever possible; it breaks down into unusable simple sugars that wreak havoc on the hips and gut.
8. Choose one, but no more than two, pieces of dessert that you simply love and keep the slices small. However, if you feel that you can’t stop at just one small cake or a sliver of pie, avoid the dessert table altogether and opt for a warm coffee or tea flavored with sweet leaf drops and creamy cashew milk.
With these simple tips in mind, you can survive the holidays within your caloric budget and still enjoy good food, family and festivities. One final tip: whenever you are going out to a gathering, eat a healthy protein and piece of fruit prior to leaving home and drink plenty of water to keep a feeling of satiety to prevent overeating. Bon appétit and happy holidays!
Contributed by Terri Caunt R.N., B.S.N.
Functional Medicine Nutritionist