Holidays like Thanksgiving are a time when overindulging in homemade dishes is encouraged, but what happens to the body after the plates have been cleaned?
It is estimated the average American consumes more than three times the daily number of recommended calories on Thanksgiving Day, when the temptation to eat high-calorie food is everywhere.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Ashley Delk, a registered dietitian for UAB Athletics and Campus Recreation and graduate student in the UAB School of Health Professions, says that it is OK to enjoy the holiday food, but to be careful about overeating.
“People tend to gain 1 pound during the holiday seasons,” Delk said. “That adds up to a lot of extra pounds over a lifetime.”
Delk says that, when preparing meals, there are strategies to help avoid added sugars, saturated fats and salts.
“Of course, casseroles are very popular during the holidays; but by limiting casseroles, you can limit the amount of added sugars, saturated fats and salt you consume with one fell swoop,” Delk said.
The daily recommended amount of sodium is 2,300 milligrams. Delk suggests that adding cinnamon to dishes like sweet potato casserole and pie is a healthier way to add flavor without adding extra sugars. Limiting processed foods, like canned cranberry sauces or instant macaroni and cheese that contain sugar, fat and salt, is a good rule of thumb.
The average American eats around 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, which is equivalent to 14 slices of pumpkin pie, according to the Calorie Control Council.
Delk says people can prepare their bodies for a holiday meal by keeping a normal eating schedule.
“We know that skipping meals before a big meal like Thanksgiving backfires,” she said. “Sticking to a solid meal schedule — breakfast, lunch and dinner — will help you to not overindulge.”
A major challenge for some may be practicing portion control during holidays when overindulging can be encouraged.
“Start with a plate and divide that into fourths,” she said.
Delk suggests filling half a plate with fruits and vegetables, like green beans, cranberries, squash and carrots, leaving one-fourth for lean white turkey meat, and the other fourth for one carbohydrate or grain like a dinner roll, mashed potatoes or whole-grain rice.
“Increasing fruits and vegetables on your plate fills you up and reduces the number of calories you might normally take in,” Delk said. “Fill your plate with what you would consider to be a half serving.”
Delk warns that drinks can sneak up on your calorie count as well.
“A lot of times, we forget that drinks have calories, like apple cider, hot chocolate or coffee with added sugar,” she said. “It’s a good idea to think of those things almost as desserts. Adding fresh fruit to water is a great alternative.”
Maintaining a normal exercise pattern during the holidays is crucial, Delk says.
“It never hurts to take a walk after a big meal,” she said.
Delk says that, by having a balanced plate and practicing moderation, everyone can enjoy the holidays the healthy way.