SPRINGFIELD – It's hard enough just to resist the daily temptations of foods that aren't good for you. But, when the holidays roll around with tasty treats that are hard to pass up despite the fact they are filled with sweet sugar, creamy butter, and plenty of fat, willpower often goes by the wayside. And, that's not to mention the tremendous temptation for people with diabetes surrounded by an abundance of high carbohydrate foods on the holiday tables.
"Holiday meals don't have to mean overeating, you just need to have a plan," Paula Serafino-Cross RD, a clinical dietitian in Food and Nutrition Services at Baystate Medical Center, said.
And, as the saying goes, everything in moderation.
When planning for the temptations of "Turkey Day" and other upcoming holiday feasts, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends:
• Starting your day with a small meal that includes whole grains, fruit, dairy foods and protein, such as eggs, ham, nuts or peanut butter.
• Not starving yourself beforehand. This can be harmful for people on diabetes medications or insulin. Also, the longer you go without eating, the more you eat when you sit down.
• Selecting carefully: food you definitely will eat, those you will sample, and those you will skip. Know your carbohydrate goal for each meal and try to stick to it for good blood sugar control.
• Pacing your eating and spending more time visiting with family and friends.
• Watching liquid calories, including alcoholic beverages, juices and sodas which can pack a real punch in terms of calories and carbohydrates; drink water or sugar-free beverages instead.
And, when it comes to actually sitting down at the Thanksgiving table, Serafino-Cross said Thanksgiving treats can fit into your healthy eating plan with a few easy makeovers.
"The star of the day, your turkey, is actually a good source of protein, but eat only the meat and pass on the crunchy skin which is full of fat," Serafino-Cross said.
"And what good turkey doesn't come stuffed, whether with meat or bread stuffing," she added.
Serafino-Cross suggested as an option using whole wheat bread and a reduced-sodium chicken broth instead of butter to moisten the stuffing, as well as mixing in some chopped vegetables or even fruit.
Go easy on sugar-filled foods like cranberry sauce and save some of your carbohydrates for your favorite "Turkey Day" foods. Thanksgiving foods containing carbohydrates include potatoes, stuffing, breads, rolls, corn, peas, squashes, cranberry sauce and desserts. Decide ahead of time which you will enjoy and which you can do without.
As for potatoes, the Baystate dietitian suggested forgetting the butter in favor of using a little broth or topping them with plain yogurt. Also, buy new potatoes and leave the skins on for a boost of fiber. Mashing or roasting with olive oil and fresh herbs are delicious ways to cook potatoes for the holiday. The same suggestions apply to sweet potato lovers who can leave the butter, sugar, and marshmallows behind and instead try sweetening them with sugar-free maple syrup and topping them with chopped pecans.
And, who doesn't like a creamy good green bean casserole on Thanksgiving? The only trouble is it is filled with fat and can be high in sodium, Serafino-Cross noted.
"Try using a lower-fat, reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup, low-fat milk and cutting the amount of fried onions in half. Also, you can add some toasted almonds for extra crunch," she said.
When making sweet treats such as cookies, pies and cakes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests substituting traditional baking ingredients with healthier options to help lower trans fat intake. Go easy on foods with "hydrogenated" or "partially-hydrogenated oils." Switch to oils or trans fat-free margarines. Add healthy ingredients to cake or cookie batters, such as raisins or toasted nuts instead of chocolate chips.
As for sweet treats, think about what you really love for dessert and choose a small serving. Eat it slowly and savor it so that you feel satisfied. Healthful dessert ideas include a fresh fruit yogurt parfait; homemade, low fat oatmeal cookies; and pumpkin pie made with fat-free evaporated milk.
Dr. Rushika Conroy of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at Baystate Children's Hospital noted it may not be coincidental that the month of November – Diabetes Awareness Month – is chosen to bring attention to the epidemic of diabetes in the United States, as the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year pose the greatest challenge for those who are obese and/or have diabetes.
"When celebrating Thanksgiving at someone else's home, especially in a situation where they ask you to contribute to the dinner, we tell parents to bring something healthy," Conroy said.
For example, if they want you to bring an hors d'oeuvre, then bring a healthy vegetable platter with low-fat yogurt dip as opposed to pigs in a blanket. If you are asked to bring a main course, consider mashed potatoes prepared in a healthy way with skim milk to lower the amount of cream. Or, if it's a dessert, then bring some fruit since there is sure to be plenty of pies and cakes at the dessert table.
Also, Conroy suggests talking to your children to let them know that they will soon be faced with a table filled with foods and a free-for-all as everyone grabs for their favorites.
"Since the best goal for them is no seconds, suggest that they enjoy themselves by filling their plate with a little of everything, just as long as it's not piled as high as the plate is wide," Conroy said.
"It's also important for children to remember to check their blood sugars, because diabetes doesn't take a day off and neither can they when it comes to their diabetes management. Don't forget to take your child's glucose meter and diabetes supplies along to your holiday destination. This is not a day to forget to take one's medication, and for those taking insulin, it's especially important that they count their carbs as best as possible," Conroy added.
As for the leftovers, leave them behind.
"Everyone tends to overdo it a little at a holiday meal, but that's not a license to continue when you or your child walk away from the table. If you're at someone's home and they offer you a plate of leftovers, politely decline so that you can return to your regular healthy eating habits for the rest of the week and beyond," Conroy said.
And, eating slowly is important, noted Dr. Sabyasachi Sen of Baystate Medical Center's Endocrine and Diabetes Division.
"Thanksgiving is a celebration with your friends and family. Let food be part of the celebration, but not the whole purpose of your day. Once food is no longer the center of attention, the only thing one needs to keep in mind is to eat slowly. It is pretty tough to overeat if you are biting and chewing at a snail's pace," Sen said.
"Slow eating helps you eat less food, digest better, and appreciate it more. It also helps you make wiser food choices, since decisions about what to put on your plate are made less frantically. And, even if people around you are guzzling their food in a frenzy, try to resist the urge to match their eating speed," he added.
After your holiday meal, don't just sit on the couch for the rest of the day watching football or playing video games with your kids.
"A post-meal walk, stroll or any activity that gets you moving is not only a great idea for burning up those extra calories, it also contributes to lowering your blood sugar levels after a hearty Thanksgiving meal," Sen said.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc or for more information on Baystate Children's Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch