By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
We live in a world filled with variety and uniqueness in culture, tradition, food and holiday celebrations. This December, while Christmas could be one family’s main event, another family may be celebrating Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Boxing Day, to name a few additional traditions. Each has its own special place in history, as well as the celebrator’s heart with specific food, gifts, religious events, stories or holiday garb attached to it. Food is a language we all speak and sharing healthy food from diverse cultures only brings us closer to recognize all that we do have in common. Sharing love and food benefits everyone.
Ralph Waldo Emerson penned the statement, “The first wealth is health,” insinuating that the true gift and richness in life is being healthy first and foremost and having the freedom to actively participate in that life. Health and vitality is a wealth unmatched by money or things. Often health may be taken for granted until it is compromised or diminished in some way. Anyone that has been sick or had to manage a health condition themselves or with a family member can appreciate the importance of health to their happiness and quality of life. It starts with a sound body and mind, and that is directly related to our nutritional status, genetic predisposition, and what we do every day to nurture and nourish our body.
That is where food and nutrition come in—the foundation for everything. Even before conception, the nutritional status of our mother, father and ancestors, as well as environmental factors, affected our health and development. Food is information. Over time, it can alter DNA, it can influence gene expression, it can derail or feed a cancer, it can decrease or enhance a systemic function, it can damage or protect cells, and it can hinder us or fuel us. But, there is a difference between food and nutrition, especially today. Today we have a plethora of food-like substances, manufactured, chemically manipulated, altered and stripped, barely recognizable from the nutrient content it may have once had. It could be argued that it is actually no longer food, and it could definitely be considered no longer nutritionally beneficial.
When we talk nutrition, we talk about the richness of whole foods, foods found in the form they were originally placed in by Mother Nature herself—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and so on. Those rich sources of functional fuel in the form of protein, healthy fat, carbohydrates along with the synergy of beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and polyphenols, are all powerful and productive components for supporting our body’s systems. The purpose of food is to fuel our bodies. Wouldn’t we want the most beneficial fuel available? An appropriate mixture matched with some clean, unadulterated water is a combination that promotes health and wellbeing for accomplishing all those things we want to do in life.
Many of my patients and clients come in overwhelmed about the upcoming holiday season, a class or family reunion, church gathering or charity event because of the food, the choices, the amounts, the temptation. I remind them about the purpose of the celebration: it is not about the food—it is about the people, the event, and the purpose of gathering. It is about the memories, the laughter, the games, and the time together. It is an occasion to celebrate life. For some it is about the birth of Jesus Christ, for others it is about the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, for others it is something different. For all of us it is about family, tradition, culture, and love. It is a time of celebration for life, for discovery, for togetherness, for sharing. The food can and should be enjoyed, can be the glue of commonality that brings us together, but it can also be the fuel that feeds the wealth of health.
Here are some tips in looking to nutrition and rethinking the purpose of food in your holiday celebrations. May you have the gift of health and happiness and spread the wealth with someone less healthy or fortunate this holiday season.
Healthier version of a classic – when there’s no substitute for “mama’s/grandma’s/uncle’s/cousin’s____,” remember to enjoy, but understand your stomach is not much bigger than your fist, think about what goes in it. There’s the tried and true classics that you don’t want to make into ‘diet’ food, but there are ways to keep the flavor and authenticity and increase the nutritional value for a healthier version without anyone being the wiser. Entertain the possibility by:
• While cooking, ask “Could I replace this calorie-
dense ingredient (like oil, butter, cream, lard) with ____?” Pureed pumpkin, applesauce, and avocado often can substitute for oil in recipes for baked goods and desserts while broths, stocks and condensed soups can sit in for gravies, roux (fat and flour mixtures) or added fat, like butter and cream.
• Lower fat or alternative versions of items such as soy or rice milk and cream of mushroom soups in mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, and sauces.
• Try roasting the vegetables as an alternative to the casserole form or toss green beans with walnuts, balsamic vinaigrette and cranberries for a twist on the standard green bean side dish.
• Use low sodium soups and canned or frozen vegetables can be used for casseroles and side dishes.
• Low-fat yogurt, dairy-free sour cream (yes it is out there, check your local grocery store), low-fat frozen yogurt or other healthier but tasty toppings can replace full-fat, empty calorie toppings and offer more options for those with lactose intolerance, GI issues or following an animal-free diet.
• Make use of spices and seasonings. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, thyme, and rosemary are just a few examples of great additions to a dish that make a significant impact on flavor and nutrition but don’t add fat, calories, or lots of work.
Visual cues or even taking out the measuring cups may be helpful to remembering what an appropriate serving size looks like. A cascade of favorites may overwhelm any healthy intention you made before you get to the table filled with mouth-watering dishes. From the pecan pie, gravy, dinner rolls, eggnog, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, creamy casseroles, honey-glazed ham, fried turkey, creamed corn, candied apples, caramel corn, pumpkin cream-cheese rolls, sweet potato casseroles topped with marshmallows. . . it’s easy to overdo it just by having a bite of each. Most of these are made with a combination of the tempting three: sugar, fat and salt. Delicious right? Knowing what a portion size looks like, what a treat is, and savoring every bite will help. Also, keep these tips in mind:
• A cup is about the size of your fist or tennis ball (go for ½ fist of casseroles, pastas, pies and deep fried goodies)
• A protein serving is about 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards
• A stamp-size pad of butter will do the trick
• Dish out servings in the kitchen versus family style platters and endless bowls of sides on the table or buffet style set-up
• Choose salad plates or 6-9” dinner plates versus the larger 12” dinner plate
• Promptly redistribute leftovers among storage containers and properly store
Need more specialized or individualized ideas for your health condition, or nutritional needs? Schedule an appointment with me, your registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) today.
(Makes about 2 cups (4 servings))
Traditional cranberry sauce usually calls for a 2:1 ratio of berries to sugar. Adding another sweet fruit such as apples helps cut down on the amount of sugar without compromising the taste. Fruit sweetener, Sucanat, or unrefined organic sugar can be found in natural foods stores.
– 2 cups peeled sliced apples (use a sweettart
apple such as Jonagold, Granny Smith, or
– 2 cups fresh cranberries
– 1/2 cup apple juice
– 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
– 1/4 cup fruit sweetener or organic sugar
– 1 teaspoon almond extract
Cook all ingredients in a saucepan until fruit is tender—about 5 to 7 minutes. Purée 2 cups at a time in a blender. Return to saucepan and cook until mixture thickens to consistency you desire.
Total calories per serving: 122
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 4 grams
CREAMY CRANBERRY- APPLE WHIP
(Makes 2 cups–4 servings)
Made with Cranberry Applesauce, this easy pudding makes an excellent last-minute dessert.
– 1 cup Cranberry Applesauce (see recipe, above)
– 1 cup silken tofu
– 1 Tablespoon finely chopped walnuts or
pecans, or grated coconut
In a blender or with a hand blender, combine Cranberry Applesauce and silken tofu and blend until smooth and creamy. Mix in chopped nuts or grated coconut, if desired.
Total calories per serving: 107
Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram
Recipes from our friends at The Vegetarian Resource Group http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2000nov/2000novcranberry.htm
Credit: Debra Daniels-Zeller
1. Coleman-Jensen, et al. Household Food Security in the United States ins 2015. www.ers.usda.gov/publications/
2. Feeding America http://www.feedingamerica.org/aboutus/how-we-work/