Talkin’ Turkey – Holiday Game Plan

Turkey DinnerThe holidays are a time to reflect on the bounty of nature and, more importantly, pig out with family and friends. For many athletes, the holidays are also a time to compete in a special tournament or competition. Whether soccer, basketball, running or some other sport, you want to enjoy the great spread, especially the desserts, without giving up your game. What’s a player to do?

If you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, don’t feel like you need to be deprived of your holiday favorites. Fitting all the yummies into a healthy eating plan is easy. Try to eat smaller portions, replace high calorie foods for lowfat options or slightly alter your recipes. For example, replace two egg whites for one egg or used dried fruits intead of nuts, or try evaporated skim milk in place of cream or whipping cream. You can also snack on foods that are high in soluble fiber such as fruits, veggies, and legumes – they actually slow down food digestion and make you feel full longer.

Roast turkey, a holiday staple, gets high marks from most dietitians for overall nutrition. It’s low in fat and high in protein. It’s also a good source of iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. A 3-ounce serving of boneless, skinless turkey breast contains 26 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 0 grams of saturated fat. To keep it healthy, you may want to forgo the skin and choose white over dark meat. Also, try to buy a wild or farm-raised bird without hormones and antibiotics. If you’ve got a holiday sports event you’ll be burning plenty of calories so for this one day, it’s probably okay to “have it your way.”

Side dishes can be traditional or creative but chances are there will be some potatoes on the table. You can add butter and sour cream, or you can make them lower in fat by using broth as a liquid or 2% milk instead of cream. Another way to add a lot of flavor without adding extra calories is to mash them with a few cloves of roasted garlic, which adds a mellow flavor. However you eat ’em, they’re a great source of vitamin B6.

Stuffing can also get a holiday makeover and added nutrition by using whole-wheat bread and adding ingredients such as:

  • Chopped vegetables (onion, celery, mushrooms, and eggplant)
  • Nuts (toasted walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
  • Fruits (fresh or dried cranberries, apples, apricots, or pears)
  • Wild rice

Cranberry Sauce, always a staple, is rich in antioxidants which help protect your body from free radical damage. Cranberries also contain salicyclic acid, the same anti-inflammatory found in aspirin. Less inflammation means faster recovery so eat up!

Freshly picked pumpkins from the pumpkin patch are ideal for decoration, but the canned version wins for ease of preparation as well as for its nutrient score. In terms of both dietary fiber and beta-carotene, canned pumpkin’s nutritional profile far surpasses that of fresh. If you’re concerned about carbs and calories, consider:

  • Pumpkin mousse or soufflé as an alternative to pumpkin pie.
  • One-crust or no-crust pies rather than two-crust pies.
  • Nonfat or reduced-fat whipped topping rather than full-fat whipped cream.
  • Replace refined sugar with whole-grain sweeteners such as barley malt syrup.

Most experts say you shouldn’t view a holiday dinner as a meal of extreme excess or extreme restriction. To support the rigors of training, you need to eat well, but don’t forget a dose of good, sound common sense. The best game plan is to eat small portions of a variety of protein, fat, and carbohydrates throughout the day. And most important, take time to enjoy your friends, teammates and family.

Cheers, and happy, healthy holidays to all.

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