A group of researchers recently showed that a month of unhealthy lifestyle and weight gain made it tougher to lose weight later.
While taking time off from being healthy by overeating and not exercising can make ongoing weight loss more challenging, I believe that taking time to enjoy yourself on special holidays is part of being healthy. Thanksgiving is one of those days.
That said, I tell my patients that planning is the single most important factor in being healthy, and this is especially true on Thanksgiving. With just a bit of planning you can eat well, have a great holiday and be healthy.
Here are five simple Dr. Gourmet Thanksgiving guidelines:
1. Serve fresh snacks.
Put out bowls of popcorn: It's super easy to make and popcorn is full of fiber.
Fresh veggies and dip are especially easy now that most grocery stores sell bags or platters of pre-cut peppers, celery, carrots and cherry tomatoes. Making your own dips helps you control the calories, but you'll also avoid the added chemicals and salt in many prepared dips.
Nuts and trail mix made with dried fruit are a great party snack. While they are higher in calories, research has shown that eating nuts before a meal helps us feel fuller and makes us less likely to overeat. We also know that nuts and seeds help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
2. Think about drinks.
Don't buy soda for your Thanksgiving day festivities. A can of regular soda contains a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar.
Make fantastic iced tea or lemonade with only one or two teaspoons of sugar a glass. Delicious, refreshing, and each drink has 100 fewer calories than the same amount of soda (you probably can't get 9 teaspoons of sugar to dissolve in a glass of iced tea).
Alcohol can be a big source of excess calories and can also make you less inhibited and lead to eating more than you really want. Limit the number of drinks and alternate your alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages, preferably water. (And encourage your visitors to have a designated driver!)
3. Eat real food.
More and more research is showing us that the more processed food is, the worse it is for you.
Soup is a great starter course. There's good research showing that people who have a soup course to start with eat fewer calories overall. Fall is a great season for soups -- they're so warm and satisfying.
For your main course, choose fresh turkeys that have not had any fat or sodium added. Many have had flavorings injected into the meat. Check the package if you purchase a frozen turkey: the ingredient list should list only turkey.
If you usually serve a ham, serve pork tenderloin or a pork loin roast instead. Good quality cuts of pork like these are lower in saturated fat than that spiral-cut ham and have no added salt.
Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes are some of the healthiest you can eat. It can help your diners a lot to serve only a single starch -- whether that's stuffing, yams or potatoes. It's best to choose baked yams or mashed sweet potatoes instead of stuffing or dressing, as they will have better quality nutrients and are generally higher in fiber.
If you are going to make stuffing, don't use a mix. The products on the market are full of salt, chemicals and often added fat. When making your own, use whole grain breads or cornbread. Both will have more fiber than the stuff you get out of a box.
Serve veggies, veggies and more veggies. Serve a wide variety of vegetables with your Thanksgiving spread.
Cranberry sauce can be great for you -- cranberries have tons of antioxidants. They are, however, tart and most pre-made sauces have a lot of added sugar. Check the package for a brand with the least added sugar (or make your own).
4. You don't have to have a second helping.
Stop and think about how great that food was before you head for the buffet table again. Sometimes that's all it takes for you to keep from overeating.
5. Serve a portion-controlled dessert.
Best of all, serve fruit. Go with something fancy like Poached Pears, or if you don't want to make the effort, serve cut fruit or berries with whipped cream (the real whipped cream from a can help you with portion control too).
Most of all, enjoy Thanksgiving. If you do overeat a bit, that's O.K.. The day after Thanksgiving is for shopping, so it'll be easy to get back on track!
Here are some delicious, healthy recipes for your Thanksgiving gathering:
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.