American University Nutrition Expert Offers Tips for Healthful Holiday Eating

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Eating in moderation and staying active can help prevent holiday weight gain, says American University nutrition expert.

Many favorite holiday foods, such as white turkey meat, can be healthful choices.

Several foods we consume this time of year are actually good for you when prepared with minimal added fat, sugar, and salt and consumed in moderation.

Thanksgiving begins the winter holiday season and while Americans tend to eat too much from late November through New Years—sometimes leading to as much as 8 to 10 pounds of weight gain—quite a few of the foods that we associate with the holidays can be healthful choices when prepared with minimal added fat, sugar, and salt and consumed in moderation.

Stacey Snelling, a registered dietician and associate dean at American University’s School of Education, Teaching and Health, weighed in on some foods Americans are most likely to consume during the holidays and pointed out the health benefits.

•White turkey meat is low in fat, high in protein, high in B vitamins, and low in fat and calories compared to dark turkey meat.
•Cranberries are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol free, high in fiber, and high in vitamins A and C. But watch out: “Cranberry sauce is higher in sugar and calories, lower in vitamins and fiber,” Snelling said.
•Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots are fat-free, cholesterol free, high in vitamins A and C, and high in fiber.
•Red wine is fat-free and high in heart-healthy antioxidants. But pay attention to consumption, meaning “one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two alcoholic beverages per day for men,” Snelling said.
•Dark chocolate is also high in antioxidants.
•Broccoli is low in calories, fat free, and high in vitamins A and C.
•Spinach is low in calories, fat free, high in vitamins A and K, and high in fiber.
•Green beans are low in calories, fat free, high in vitamins C and K, and high in fiber.
•Green peas are fat free, high in vitamin K, and high in fiber.

Even spices used to dress up some favorite holiday foods may offer benefits.

“Some research has found that cinnamon may lower blood sugar, improve diabetes, and aid in bacterial infections,” Snelling pointed out.

Getting the most out of the benefits offered by these foods will depend on the food—some are simply nutritious, such as a plain sweet potato. Other foods or condiments added to some holiday favorites, such as gravy, butter, and sugar, may be higher in fat and/or calories but are flavorful and need to be eaten in smaller quantities or enjoyed occasionally.

“Food is to be enjoyed in moderation,” Snelling said. “So we want to move away from people feeling ‘guilty’ about consumption and learn to enjoy foods in moderation.”

And just because it’s a holiday, don’t simply zone out by watching parades, football games, or holiday movies on television, the Web, or at the movie theater. Instead, find a way to be physically active as a family, such as taking a walk to view neighborhood holiday decorations or playing a game of touch football in the yard.

“Engaging in regular physical activity is something we should be doing all year long, not just during the holidays,” Snelling added. “By enjoying favorite holiday foods in moderation and remaining physically active, we can give ourselves and our families the gift of happier, healthier holidays down the road.”

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

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Maggie Barrett
American University
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