It’s a time to expand our hearts with warmth and gratitude, for our loved ones and all that is good in our lives, including our health. Enjoy the feast guilt-free with these simple tips from Loyola University Medical Center nutritionist Gina Neill, RD/LDN.
DO: Add whole grains to the menu.
One of Neill’s own faves is sweet potato gnocchi, her yearly tradition, and this year, she’s serving up a new quinoa salad with oranges, beets, and pomegranate. “When a fall feast calls for hearty comfort food, think whole grains,” says Neill. “They have a rich nutty flavor that can add variety to a traditional Thanksgiving meal and according to the American Heart Association, whole grains are generally good sources of dietary fiber and dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet that helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.” Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains also help provide a feeling of fullness, she adds, so they can keep you from over-indulging on higher calorie fare.
We often hear about the heart-promoting bennies of red wine, but over-drinking is a definite no-go. “Not only will each drink you have add calories to your meal,” says Neill, “it will also decrease your inhibitions making it easier to over-eat during your Thanksgiving meal.” Beyond that, alcohol can transiently increase your blood pressure, adds Neill, which compounds the strain on your heart that could be occurring if you’re over-indulging in a high salt meal.
DO: Use plant stanols/sterols.
Look for margarine spreads with added stanols and sterols. Using a sterol-fortified spread in place of butter or regular margarine to help protect your health during your Thanksgiving meal if there are other sources of cholesterol in the meal. “Plant stanols and sterols have a structure similar to cholesterol and can block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream,” says Neill.
DON’T: Overdo the salt.
Avoid canned veggies and opt for fresh or frozen instead. If preparing a cooked turkey, your best option is the “Fresh Whole Turkey” with an insignificant amount of salt, suggests Neill, and if you need to get your turkey ahead of time, go with the “Frozen Whole Turkey” which has about 200 mg of sodium per serving. Smoked frozen turkeys and fully cooked turkeys have upwards of 500 mg of sodium and should be avoided, she adds. Use herbs and spices instead of salt and try vinegar recipes to boost salty flavors without increasing the sodium. High sodium (salt) intake holds excess fluid in your body and strains the heart, leading to high blood pressure.
What are Your secrets to keeping Thanksgiving healthy?