Have a Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving
When it comes to the holidays, portion control seems to fly out the window before the turkey is even carved. But there are ways to stick with your heart-healthy routine and lower the heart attack risk that often coincides with a huge meal.
In more unsettling news, research presented to the American Heart Association shows that your heart attack risk can grow as much as four times in the hours after indulging in a big meal, especially one that’s high in fat.
So how do you enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and other holiday meals, without putting your life at risk? By using portion control and making heart-healthy choices, of course. A few small sacrifices let everyone have a good, healthy time.
- Eat before you greet. “Just like you don’t want to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, you don’t want to go to Thanksgiving dinner when you’re starving,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and an instructor at the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago. Skipping a meal because you’re going to party later can actually sabotage your efforts to stick with a heart-healthy diet, says Dobbins. Instead of the 300 calories you would have eaten at lunch, you’ll eat an extra 1,000 at dinner. So have something small before your turkey meal, preferably with a little protein, such as low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers, which are high in fiber, to keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Go for vegetables first. Vegetables, especially ones steamed or roasted, have fewer calories than most of the other trimmings on the table, and they’re crucial to a heart-healthy diet. “If you fill up on steamed green beans, carrots, or brussels sprouts, you’ll have less room and desire to eat more stuffing or dessert,” says Marisa Moore, RD, LD, a nutritionist in Atlanta and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
- Use a smaller plate for better portion control. Research shows that we think we’re finished eating when our plate is empty. You can feel satisfied if you eat what’s on your plate, even if that plate is smaller than you normally would use for dinner.
- Choose white over dark. A slice of turkey breast has fewer calories and less fat than a slice of dark meat or a turkey leg. Skip the skin too — that’s where most fat is.
- Spice it up. When you’re baking pies, add more nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. “If the pie has a stronger flavor, you won’t need as much fat,” says Moore. You can also reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by a third to half without losing the taste. If your recipe calls for heavy cream, use evaporated skim milk instead to cut fat and calories.
- Make it a wine spritzer. Science has shown a little red wine is good for the heart. Make it low-cal by sipping a spritzer instead. Use seltzer, which has zero calories, in place of half the wine in your glass.
- Practice portion control. If you have to have a slice of pecan pie, make sure it’s a small one. A sliver can satisfy your craving without sending your cholesterol higher. Skip the whipped cream topping — the pie is sweet enough, and you’ll be able to savor its flavor even more by eating it by itself.
- Leave the leftovers behind. Hosts often want to send guests home with leftovers, but just say no, suggests Dobbins. If you have it in your house, you will eat it, and, though it’s okay to indulge once in a while, you don’t want to keep eating the same unhealthy foods for an entire week.
- Get a move on. Rather than sitting around feeling stuffed, go for a walk after dinner. Or round up family and friends for a game of touch or flag football.
Remember, Thanksgiving is one day, not an entire weekend. “Try not to continue unhealthy eating into the next week,” Moore says.