You can have your dessert — just don’t eat too much of it

Thursday, November 20, 2003

For many, November and December are the months of excess and overeating, but the best option for everyone is moderation, according to nutritionist Juliet Getty, a University of North Texas associate professor of hospitality management.

"Thanksgiving, for instance, is about good food, friends and family," she says. "You shouldn't have to sacrifice — it's silly to say eat bean sprouts and tofu at Christmas or Thanksgiving instead of turkey. But we do have to watch how much we eat."

Getty says the biggest danger during the holidays is overindulging in unhealthy foods and then underindulging in physical activity.

Instead of eliminating favorite foods, watch the portions, she suggests. Never go to a Christmas party or family get-together starving, but eat a good breakfast or lunch and try to fill up on veggies, before diving into the turkey and sweet potato pie, she says.

"It's okay to enjoy your favorites, but don't fill up on them," Getty adds.

Those who prepare the meals for the holidays can make the meals healthier without sacrificing flavor. A few small changes or substitutions in a recipe or two can make a huge difference.

"For instance, you can take the skin off of the turkey to reduce fat," Getty says. "Or use chicken broth for making potatoes or stuffing."

In addition, using evaporated skim milk in baking trims the fat without sacrificing the flavor, she says.

But she adds a few items may need to be removed from the holiday menu. Surprisingly, one of the most high calorie items on the traditional Thanksgiving/Christmas menu is a dinner roll.

"One small dinner roll contains 200 calories and that's without the butter," Getty says.

Other overlooked, high-calorie items are soft drinks and cider. Getty advises drinking water with meals instead.

"Sugar sweetened drinks can eat up a large portion of the calories of a meal," she says.

Getty does have some good news regarding holiday menus — many favorite foods are very good nutritionally.

"Sweet potatoes and pumpkin are high in beta carotene, which protects against cancer," she says. "They're also high in fiber and considered a 'power food' — foods high in nutritive value that protect against cancer and heart disease."

The same is true of fresh — not canned — cranberries. Broccoli, peas, carrots and celery are also all highly nutritious items for holiday eating, Getty says.

She suggests using olive, peanut or canola oils in cooking, staying away from solid shortening or soybean oils.

Getty believes the biggest health concern for holiday eating, and the most overlooked, is safety in preparation and care of food. Often people don't refrigerate food quickly enough after a meal, she says.

"Food poisoning is a real consequence of leaving food out for too long," she says. "Food shouldn't be left out for more than two hours."

Getty says her overall message is to eat in moderation and exercise after eating.

"Nothing too strenuous," she says. "Just do the dishes or go for a walk or even play a little football before watching it on TV."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108