Monday Medical: Eat healthy during holidays

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— For many, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, which means extra parties, travel, different routines and special holiday foods and treats. This can equate to extra pounds come New Year's Day. Here are some tips that may help you start the holiday season on a healthy note.

- Thanks-giving: Focus on the "thanks" and the "giving" of this holiday, not on the pumpkin pie and stuffing. Ask yourself what you are truly thankful for in your life and how much you can give to those less fortunate than you. This doesn't have to cost money; the gift of time is a precious resource and much appreciated.

- Turkey: Roast turkey is an excellent source of lean protein. A four-ounce serving of white meat provides more than 60 percent of an adult's daily protein requirement. Turkey is also high in selenium, niacin, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12 and L-tryptophan, a hormone that is associated with calmness, sleepiness and a feeling of well-being.

- Stuffing: The stuffing or dressing that accompanies the turkey is traditionally made with a variety of nutritious ingredients - walnuts, apples, celery, onions, whole-grain bread - that all get soaked with the succulent juices from the turkey. Those juices, of course, are fatty so the dressing is healthier, and usually just as tasty, if it's baked in a casserole or cooked on the stove.

- Potatoes: Mashed potatoes may be an essential part of your holiday meal, and you can bet your grandmother did not get her mashed potatoes out of a package. Potatoes are one of the best sources of potassium and are high in vitamin C, iron and fiber.

- Cranberries: For many Americans today, Thanksgiving is the only time all year they eat cranberries. That's unfortunate because cranberries are among the world's healthiest foods. Cranberries and cranberry juice protect against urinary tract infections, and they're high in antioxidants, adding protection against heart disease and some cancers.

- Winter squash: Squash is a rich source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and, as a result, offers strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It's also high in vitamin C, potassium, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber.

- Sweet potatoes: In casseroles or on their own, they are on most holiday tables today, and they are similar to squash in their nutritional value. Recent research indicates that they actually help stabilize blood sugar, offering protection against diabetes and insulin resistance. Sweet potatoes are also high in beta carotene, vitamin C, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, potassium, iron and dietary fiber.

- Pumpkin pie: Dessert is not always intended to be health food, but pumpkin, a type of winter squash, is a rich source of beta-carotene and other antioxidants. Whether you have pumpkin or sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving dessert, you're going to be getting plenty of vitamin A as well as sweet-tooth pleasure.

If you have all or most of these traditional dishes on your holiday table you will be getting plenty of hearty, healthy foods, especially if they are prepared close to their most natural form. Go easy on the gravy, butter, cream sauces, and the dressing. Cut portion sizes in half so you can enjoy favorite foods but not stuff yourself.

Include low-calorie, high-fiber options in the meal like salads, green beans and apples. Try using healthy substitutions while cooking fat-free chicken broth, skim milk, Splenda sugars, fat-free whipped cream, etc. You'll cut the calories and fat and still enjoy the taste.

Go for a walk, snowshoe or ski before or after the meal. Be sure to get some exercise on Friday, also. Most of all, take time to relax and enjoy what the holiday is really about - gathering with friends and family and being thankful.

Lisa A. Bankard coordinates the wellness and community education programs at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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