From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, most people end up eating more than they should. Sometimes it catches up with us in the way of a few extra pounds– the average American gains 1 to 2 pounds during the holiday season, but for those with dietary restrictions, there’s even more at stake than the number on the scale. Holiday eating extravaganzas may be putting your health and life at risk if you have kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Here are 5 holiday eating dos and don’ts to help you navigate everything from cocktail parties to the buffet table this holiday season!
- Don’t eat ham or other highly processed meats because they are high sodium culprits! The average 3 ounce portion of ham has approximately 1,000 mg of sodium. It's recommended that healthy adults consume a max of about 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which amounts to roughly a teaspoon of salt. The recommendation is even less for those with high blood pressure or kidney disease. Don’t be intimidated by product packaging and marketing claims. Read nutrition labels to compare different brands and find meats that are low in sodium.
Do dine on lower-sodium proteins, such as prime rib or pork roast which are fresh cuts of meat and naturally contain less sodium. An average 3 ounce portion of these meats contains around 100 mg of sodium. Fresh turkeys can also be a good option if they aren’t injected with a salt broth or brine. Check with your local food store to see if they carry plain, fresh turkeys. These can be more expensive than frozen ones, but don’t be afraid to ask about discounts, especially if the store has some left over after Thanksgiving, as they will likely be discarded before Christmas. You may be able to purchase one and freeze it yourself or cook it and freeze the meat and juices.
- Don’t assume that desserts and sweets are low in sodium and salt. Often, the sweetness of desserts masks the saltiness. Desserts that contain baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can be high in sodium as there is approximately 160 mg of sodium in 1/8th teaspoon. Baking powder also contains sodium bicarbonate in addition to sodium aluminum sulfate. Baking powder is lower in sodium with approximately 65 mg of sodium in 1/8th teaspoon. However, it also contains monocalcium phosphate, so be mindful if you have kidney disease and need to limit your phosphorus intake.
Do modify dessert recipes to make them lower in sodium. For example, when making fruit pies, it’s easy to just omit salt when following the recipe for crust and filling – it will still taste great! Beware of cobbler recipes though, as these often contain baking soda or baking powder. Low sodium baking powder may not a good alternative if you are on a potassium restriction (it contains potassium in place of sodium). Fruit crisps can be prepared without any additional sodium, so these are great alternatives to cobblers.
- Don’t dismiss the calories and sugar content in many holiday drinks such as punch and egg nog. Alcoholic drinks are typically high in sugar and calories, so remember that these calories add up even if they don’t fill you up. Also, alcohol can affect your judgment and your ability to make other healthy and safe food choices.
Do opt for seltzer and other water-based beverages. If you have a party or holiday meal to attend and need to limit your fluid intake, take this into account when making drink choices earlier in the day so that you can “save” some of your fluid intake for the festivities.
- Don’t be afraid to offer to bring a dish that you can eat and enjoy. This way you will know it is healthy and meets your individual dietary restrictions. Also, consider asking your host or hosts in advance what they will be serving. If your holiday meal is with other family members and you feel comfortable making a request, ask ahead of time if they can prepare something that is in line with your dietary needs.
Do offer to host if you can. This gives you the most control over what’s on the table and how it is prepared! As host, you can plan your menu around foods you can enjoy. Let others know about your diet so that they can be more aware of how important it is to you. In the future, this may even make friends and family more willing to prepare foods you can enjoy!
- Don’t attend holiday gatherings on an empty stomach! You may think that you’re saving calories by not eating beforehand, but when you’re ravenous, it’s more likely that you’ll overeat.
Do eat a healthy snack before you go so that you won’t be as tempted to consume foods and drinks that may not be healthy for you. Portion control is key, so enjoy holiday favorites in moderation and don’t be afraid to say “no thank you” to seconds.
Remember, while the holidays and food tend to go hand-in-hand, spending quality time with loved ones doesn’t require eating. In addition to tackling dietary restrictions during the holidays, focus on catching up with those you care about because conversation is calorie, salt, fat and sugar free! Happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!
Linda Ulerich, RD