Nutrition Column – Avoid the ‘stuffed’ Turkey Syndrome this Holiday Season

By the end of the holiday season, do you sometimes get the sense that you’re the one being overstuffed, not the turkey you’ve been feasting on?

Thanksgiving is a special time for socializing and celebrating with family and friends. It’s also a time of feasting, often more than we really care to indulge in as we struggle to lose those "holiday" pounds.

Very few people overeat every day. Rather, people sometimes overeat and less often undereat, and that’s what gradually puts on those unwanted pounds.

There are at least two ways to gain control over the problem. One way is to match the amount overeaten on one day with a similar amount undereaten the next day. While this sounds great in theory, our appetite control center in the brain is not very responsive to fatty substances in the blood. That control center is more interested in having a continuous supply of glucose coming into the brain. As a result, we’re usually as hungry the day after we’ve eaten too much as we are after a day of normal eating.

A second way is to eat less in the first place. While this sounds less exciting, it provides better assurance that we won’t have that stuffed feeling at the end of the day. And eating less does not have to mean less fun – for guests, it simply means taking smaller helpings, selecting between potatoes and dressing, loading up on relishes and green vegetables, stopping at one roll with a small amount of margarine and jam and asking for a small piece of pie without or with very little topping.

For the host or hostess, decalorizing Thanksgiving dinner can be a rewarding experience in gourmet cooking. For example, instead of serving a rich sausage dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy and candied sweet potatoes, select one starch, a green vegetable and one other less starchy vegetable or salad. The starch might be wild rice, herb baked potatoes or a sherry bread dressing with chopped celery, onions and green peppers.

Ideas for the green vegetable include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, French-style green beans, kale or Chinese mixed vegetables. Base the salad on mixed greens or on other green, yellow or orange vegetables like peas, carrots and yellow squash. Caloriewise, the particular green or yellow vegetable that has been chosen makes very little difference – the difference is in the sauce, dressing and seasonings being used. For example, each tablespoon of butter or mayonnaise contributes 100 calories. In contrast, each tablespoon of sour cream, medium white sauce or cheese sauce contributes 30 calories, while each tablespoon of plain yogurt adds only 10 calories. Yogurt or sour cream mixed with herbs such as basil, minced onions and/or garlic salt can make a delicious gourmet dressing for any green vegetable or salad.

Another very caloric portion of Thanksgiving dinner is dessert. A piece of pecan pie (one-sixth of the pie) provides around 600 calories – as many as some people usually eat in a whole meal. Pumpkin pie provides about half that amount, although a dollop of whipped cream may add an additional 50 calories. In contrast, one-half cup of pumpkin pie ice cream or a pudding dessert may provide only 150 calories, yet serve the same purpose.

Thanksgiving dinner need not be synonymous with painful feelings of over-consumption. With a little imagination and self-control, it can be a thankful occasion for our health as well as our taste buds. Bon appetit!