Vice President of Clinical Strategies
Thanksgiving and Christmas: The Healthy Holidays!
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 over a 3-day harvest festival, and of course, Christmas has been celebrated for centuries in many different ways across the world. These can be high-calorie, high-stress events, but we must make them as healthy as possible (mustn’t we?).
According to SignatureMD, the typical holiday meal will contain 2,500 – 3,000 calories! And that’s not including appetizers. But rest assured, the turkey is not an issue here. Turkey is a great low-fat source of protein, with about 32 grams of it in 4 ounces. Spiral Sliced Ham (1 serving) contains 5g total carbs, 5g net carbs, 6g fat, 15g protein, and 140 calories. It’s commonly thought that eating turkey causes drowsiness because of the tryptophan in the meat, but it has comparable levels to many other types of meat. In fact, many kinds of cheese contain more! Tryptophan is not produced by the human body and must be supplied through food. According to the Houston Chronicle, one of tryptophan’s most essential roles in the body is helping to synthesize a “happy chemical,” serotonin, in the brain. Serotonin contributes to our mood, well-being, happiness, cognition, and memory. Additionally, ingesting a food source high in carbohydrates (like stuffing or a dinner roll) can help make the tryptophan in turkey easier to convert to serotonin.
Green beans are loaded with bone-building fuel, including calcium, phosphorous, and Vitamin K. Brussels sprouts are loaded with vitamin A, folacin, potassium, and calcium. They have 3-5 grams of fiber per cup and 25 calories per 1/2 cup cooked. Sweet potatoes contain anthocyanin, and other pigments that are thought to have anti-inflammatory health benefits and help the body absorb iron via copper and vitamin C. Eating these yummy vegetables may help with inflammation-related health problems.
Cranberries contain a tremendous number of polyphenols that serve as antioxidants specifically beneficial to heart health. A recent study has shown that the proanthocyanidins contained within cranberries improve oral health by preventing bacteria from binding to teeth! Unfortunately, most of that goodness is in the berry’s skin, so eat the whole berry version.
To burn off the calories from 1 slice of pecan pie with cream, you must walk approximately 5.5 miles. But if you choose pumpkin pie, one cup of pumpkin contains enough beta carotene to meet 245% of your daily intake of vitamin A, which is one of the most significant nutrients of concern related to eye health. When you cut that slice of pumpkin pie for dessert, think of it as fuel for your eyes.
One day of feasting will not ruin a healthy dietary pattern, so if you splurge, get back on track! Food is an integral part of celebratory gatherings. Depriving yourself can lead to overindulgence later, so it’s all right to enjoy a modest serving of au gratin potatoes, a glass of eggnog, or a slice of your favorite pie as the occasional treats they are. Savoring your favorite holiday foods slowly and mindfully and reflecting on how much you enjoy sharing them with family and friends is essential to enjoying life.
According to the USDA, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure. Let’s keep that in mind and share the bounty as much as possible.
Spending lots of time with relatives can spread colds, flu, and COVID and be a hotbed for stress and disappointment. Remember those most vulnerable and request that others do so, too. Being mindful might mean testing, masks, vaccines, or outside gatherings.
Family time is meant to be joyful, enriching, and comforting. Prioritize physical and mental health needs for you and your guests. Plan some games for different age groups, so there is something to do besides eat and talk. Take a walk between dinner and dessert. Drive around and see Christmas lights or sing carols. Try to get as many things done ahead of time. We all know these tips, but following them is tricky—delegate responsibilities to others like games, clearing tables, and boxing leftovers. Alcohol can sometimes add fuel to a smoldering family feud. Have other beverages available and make sure the water flows.
It can also be a great time to reconnect and remember why you love these people and how precious time together can be. Take deep breaths, take lots of pictures, and remember, whether you are a guest or host – don’t expect perfection, be present in the moment, and less is more. If you are fortunate enough to live in one of the four towns in the United States named “Turkey” or the ten called “Christmas,” or you live in a town with a non-holiday name, enjoy! It’s good for you.