COLLEGE STATION – Turkeys aren’t the only things getting stuffed during the holidays. That’s why a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert has tips on altering recipes and making food choices for healthier holiday eating.
“The sugar, fat or sodium content of many holiday recipes can be reduced without a noticeable difference in taste,” said Dr. Jenna Anding, AgriLife Extension program leader for nutrition and food sciences, College Station. “In addition, there are several traditional holiday foods that are nutritious provided you prepare them in ways that don’t add a significant amount of fat or calories.”
Anding said sugar and fat content are probably the biggest ingredients to address when preparing holiday recipes.
“If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, try using two-thirds of a cup,” she said.
If reducing the fat content of a recipe is the goal, try using reduced or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of their higher-fat counterparts, she said.
“Another option is substituting evaporated milk for cream. For mashed potatoes, using defatted broth instead of butter can reduce both fat and calories. Just remember, low fat doesn’t always mean low calorie, so be aware of both in holiday food choices.”
Modifying recipes may not always produce the desired texture, Anding said, so do a taste-test before serving it to friends and family.
She said processed foods often have a higher salt content, so people should be vigilant about checking food labels for sodium content.
“If you have a choice between regular and reduced-sodium ingredients, choose those with less sodium,” she said.
Many traditional holiday foods can be healthy and nutritious choices, so long as they are prepared properly and not embellished in ways that take away from that nutritional value, Anding said.
“If you’re cooking a turkey, leave the skin on to contain the flavor, but then remove it afterward to reduce the fat content. Baste your turkey it in its own juice or use a defatted broth.”
She said for vegetables the healthiest method of cooking is either steaming or roasting, using a small amount of oil or cooking spray.
“Adding herbs and spices can add unique flavors without added fat and calories,” she said.
Anding noted that sweet potatoes are a favorite holiday vegetable containing beneficial phytonutrients and antioxidant properties, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
“Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, are high in vitamins A and C and are a good source of manganese. They are also low in calories. A medium-size baked sweet potato only has about 100 calories, so a baked sweet potato with a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon can be a healthier option to those slathered in butter or cooked with a marshmallow topping.”
Anding said cranberries, a common holiday food, are loaded with phytonutrients and are known for their anti-inflammatory properties that can promote health and may reduce the risk for disease.
“Adding them in salads and baked items such as muffins, cookies, and pies can be a way to sneak in some added nutrition and flavor,” she said.
Even with healthier preparation techniques, when it comes to eating during the holidays, Anding cautioned that portion size is still an important factor. She also noted the holidays also provide more opportunities to eat at family and social gatherings.
“If you’re trying to avoid holiday weight gain, the key is to plan accordingly so you can keep your calorie intake in check,” she said. “And don’t forget regular physical activity. It can burn off those extra calories and relieve the stress that often accompanies the holiday season.”
More food and nutrition information and resources available from AgriLife Extension can be found at http://fcs.tamu.edu.