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Kaiser Permanente Southern California Experts Offer Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner Makeover


Since Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the over-eating, over-indulging, end-of-year festivities, Kaiser Permanente Southern California experts want to provide you the healthy eating tools you need to enjoy a tasty, happy holiday season. As you put together your Thanksgiving dinner menu, take a few minutes to review your favorite recipes and think about how you can make those dishes healthier without losing the flavor.

“Turkey, a relatively low-fat meat, is the centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, the side dishes, gravy, and dessert can add a lot of calories, fat, salt and sugar,” said Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD, Kaiser Permanente Southern California Regional Health Education. “If we dish up just one serving of each of the traditional side dishes – stuffing, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, a dinner roll with butter and a slice of pie to top the meal off, – you will consume about 2,000 calories in that meal alone.”

The USDA recommends approximately 2,000 calories a day for adults who are at their ideal body weight. Since two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, consuming fewer calories is recommended.

So how can you prepare a traditional dinner that’s lower in fat and calories without losing the flavor?

“The secret to a healthy Thanksgiving is relying on wholesome ingredients, making a few substitutions and utilizing healthier cooking techniques,” said Stein Amland, Executive Chef, Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center. “I flavor all my dishes with fresh herbs. Not only do they add a punch of taste, but it’s a simple way to slash the amount of salt you would otherwise use.”

Drinks are another overlooked at source of unnecessary calories. “Both sugar-sweetened beverages and alcoholic drinks are high in empty calories; in other words, they offer zero nutrients but plenty of calories,” said Linda Mirdamadi, MD, Chief Wellness Officer, Medical Director, Health Education and Weight Management Programs, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center. “Make sure you take a minute to rethink your beverage options before you take that first sip.”

A study released on November 15 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, on average, soda and other sweetened drinks are the source of about 6 percent of the calories adults consume. Alcoholic beverages account for an additional 5 percent.

Tips to prepare healthier side dishes:

Mac and cheese: Start by choosing whole grain pasta; opt for low-fat, skim milk cheeses and non-fat cream; cut the amount of cheese and cream you use by adding pureed carrots and butternut squash.

Mashed potatoes: Swap out the butter for a little olive oil and roasted garlic and the heavy cream for fat-free condensed milk or Greek yogurt.

Stuffing: Pack it with vegetables and use whole wheat bread (crumbs); also, omit the high sodium bouillon and flavor it with fresh herbs.

Cranberry sauce: Skip the canned stuff and make your own; use a no calorie sweetener instead of traditional sugar and add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, or add orange zest for some extra flavoring.

Green bean casserole: Skip the cream and fried onion crisps. Instead, roast, grill or sauté the green beans; toss them in a little olive oil, garlic and sliced almonds; perhaps add another vegetable like asparagus.

Dessert: Pumpkin pie is the ‘healthiest’ of all the pies, but that doesn’t mean you can have the whole thing and pile the whip cream on top! Go for a small slice; if possible, eat around the crust. A great alternative is to simply roast slices of pumpkin or sweet potatoes (both high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant and fat soluble vitamin) and toss them in a little brown sugar with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

For additional healthy cooking tips, check out www.kp.org.

Other holiday season tips to help you maintain and not gain:

Portion control: You can still enjoy some of your favorite holiday dishes. The key is keeping an eye on the portions you consume. Use smaller dishes instead of the traditional dinner plate.

Don’t forget the fresh fruits and veggies: If you’re hosting the party, make sure you have at least two fruit/vegetable options; if you’re a guest, take a salad or a vegetable or fruit tray.

Write it down: Use a food diary to keep a record of your daily food intake; this will help you stay on track.

Stay active: Yes the evenings are colder, but that is not an excuse to stop exercising. Go in the morning, find an exercise partner, put some music on and get the whole family moving. Make it a priority to get the recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity.

Utilize the ‘healthy plate’ concept: Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter of your plate with a whole grain and the other quarter with a healthy source of protein.

Make time to eat: Never skip a meal. This leads to hunger-eating which results in overeating. Consume healthy snacks throughout the day. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and non-fat yogurt, are all great choices.

Keep track of the calories you drink: Take into consideration that a 12-ounce can of regular cola has 140 calories, slightly less than a same-size can of regular beer. A 5-ounce glass of wine has around 100 calories.

Manage stress: Make it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep and only take on what you can handle. Holiday stress can make you feel overwhelmed. Ask for help and realize that it’s ok to say ‘no.’

Take the emphasis away from food: Take a minute to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and all the things you’re thankful for each day. The holidays are about spending time with family and friends. Share a meal then over- indulge in laughter and love.

Editor’s Note: Chef Amland is available for cooking demonstrations upon request.

About Kaiser Permanente Southern California

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high quality, affordable health care services to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 3.5 million members in Southern California. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.