Tips for eating healthy at Thanksgiving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Davie County Hospital
Get ready to hear about it. Around this time every year, there are stories on television and in magazines and newspapers about turkey and its notoriety for inducing a good nap after a Thanksgiving meal.
Not entirely true.
“The real culprit is not the turkey,” said Lynne Doss of Davie County Hospital. “Turkey does contain tryptophan, which is a natural sedative, but the turkey probably won’t trigger the body to go to sleep because tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. And Thanksgiving usually isn’t the time for empty stomachs.”
If it’s not turkey and tryptophan, what is the reason behind a good Thanksgiving afternoon nap?
“It’s a combination of the types of food, amount of food, and celebratory atmosphere. The high-carb, high-fat meal that we enjoy at Thanksgiving is really the key to inducing a state of relaxation,” Doss said. “Stuffing, potatoes, rolls and desserts all together are the perfect combination to make people want to go to sleep. People simply overload on carbs and fats during the typical Thanksgiving meal.”
Another culprit: alcohol. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. If alcoholic beverages are part of the holiday celebration, then they will add to the nap factor.
“A lot of it boils down to overindulging at Thanksgiving,” Doss said. “It takes a great deal of energy to digest a large meal. When your stomach is full, blood is directed away from other organ systems, including your nervous system. The result? You will feel the need to snooze after any big meal, particularly if it is high in fats and carbohydrates.”
Doss said the average Thanksgiving dinner contains more than 2,000 calories, which can be a real challenge if you are watching your waistline. It’s common for adults to gain 8 to 10 pounds during the holidays.
Below are some healthy-eating tips from Davie County Hospital so that you can still look good and be healthy without having to deprive yourself of the Thanksgiving experience.
– Don’t go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry. Eat a good breakfast and perhaps a light lunch prior to the big late-afternoon Thanksgiving meal.
– Eat (at least some of) the healthier foods. You don’t have to skip the pumpkin pie or the stuffing, but make sure you eat some of the healthier foods on the table too. Good choices are turkey, squash, cranberry salad or sauce, green beans, salad and nuts.
– Eat slowly and stop when you are full. Thanksgiving dinner is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Fill half your plate with vegetables, one quarter with a lean meat and the rest with a starch of your choice.
– Watch your portion size. Go for smaller portions, particularly with the high-carb side dishes. This way you can sample all the different foods.
– Select skinless turkey. Carve about a 4-ounce skinless turkey portion to slash away some fat. Save your appetite for the side dishes and desserts.
– Drink water. Alcohol and coffee can dehydrate your body. Drink calorie-free water to help fill up your stomach and keep you hydrated.
– Enjoy some outside activity. Play football or another fall sport as a family. After dinner, take a walk, rake some leaves or do something else you can enjoy as a family.
Doss recommends making a conscious choice to limit high-fat items.
“High-fat food items can be found in fried and creamy dishes as well as cheese-filled casseroles in a traditional Thanksgiving meal ó the things that we in the South grew up on,” she said. “As with everything in life, moderation is the key.
“Remember, the whole point of the holiday season is to enjoy being with those you love, not eating more than you need. If you follow a few simple steps to a healthier Thanksgiving meal, your waistline is one thing you won’t have to worry about on Friday morning.”