‘Tis the Season: Balancing Holiday Treats With Healthy Eating

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The holiday treats have been trickling in to my office’s kitchen. First, a vendor sent a box of delectable cookies. Then, another vendor sent a package of chocolate-covered and sugar-coated pecans. And then one of my colleagues brought in a gingerbread cake last week. Did I partake of any of these? I admit that yes, I did. And this coming week we have a cookie bake-off at work.

Of course, Christmas is this week, which brings its own set of treats. Granted, I don’t have diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, or other conditions that practically demand healthful eating. So I don’t mean to whine or complain.

For those of you who have diabetes, what kinds of challenges do you face at this time of year? And how do you handle them? Do you indulge a little? Do you shy completely away? Are you able to adjust your insulin (if you take it) to compensate for high-carbohydrate treats? It’s always helpful to hear about strategies that you use. There’s no one right way to do things, by the way. But you’ve likely come across some ways to make managing diabetes a little easier, and I’m sure others would appreciate hearing about them.

This week I’m not going to lecture about what one should stay away from at the dinner or buffet table. I figure that by now, you likely know this and even if you don’t, you maybe don’t want to hear about it. After all, the holidays are here and it’s a time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. Instead, I thought I’d focus a little on what’s actually pretty healthful on the dinner table (besides the salad).

Are we doing anything right when it comes to eating at the holidays? I came across some information from the NPD Group, a company that specializes in market research, including market research on food and nutrition. The information is titled “Top 10 foods and beverages consumed at dinner on Christmas day.” Foods eaten are ranked according to region of the country: West, Central, South, and East. With the exception of central US, the number one food consumed on Christmas is…(drumroll)…vegetables! Granted, we don’t know if these are vegetables smothered in butter or cheese sauce, but that’s pretty good! The number two food is potatoes (in the central US, potatoes are number one and vegetables are number two).

As I mentioned last week, the holidays are a time of tradition, and not many people like to mess with tradition. But making a few tweaks here and there is surely permissible. Think for a moment about the foods that you eat over the holidays. Rather than focusing on the calorie-laden, fatty foods, can you name one or two foods (or beverages) that are pretty healthy? I’m sure that you can. Here are a few things to get you started:

  • Sweet potatoes. A favorite at Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes often show up at other holidays, too. And why not? These starchy vegetables are bursting with beta-carotene and have a decent amount of vitamin C. They also have a fairly low glycemic index, too. Yes, they contain carbohydrate, but there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy them.
  • Cranberries. Most people don’t eat cranberries “as is.” Likely, they’re mashed up and made into a sauce or else folded into muffin or pancake batter. These tart little berries are near the top of the list of foods high in antioxidants. Cranberries may also lower the risk of getting a urinary tract infection.
  • Turkey. Turkey’s an easy one when it comes to health. It’s got a lot going for it, including protein, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins. Four ounces of breast meat has just 150 calories and practically no fat. And who care if you just had it at Thanksgiving? One caveat: Leave off the skin.
  • Hot chocolate. How could this be good for you? Cocoa is another food that’s sometimes overlooked in terms of nutrition. The Kuna people in Panama drink up to 40 cups of cocoa each week. Yet this population has very low rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Like cranberries, cocoa is chock full of antioxidants. But we’re talking about real cocoa powder, not the packaged, processed kind. Try making your own hot chocolate with pure cocoa.
  • Cinnamon. Many of our readers have shared their “success” stories with cinnamon. This popular spice may be helpful for lowering blood glucose in some people. Even if it doesn’t for you, it’s still a flavoring that you can add to just about anything without worrying about calories, carbohydrate, or fat.
  • Pumpkin pie. It’s hard to resist desserts. If pumpkin pie is a choice, go for that. Pumpkin is low in calories but rich in beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium. The crust is what will get you, so leave the crust or if you’re the baker, try a graham cracker crust instead.

See? There are a lot of healthy holiday foods. I’ll bet you can share some others! Happy Holidays!

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