Eat Your Way to a Better Holiday: 10 Tips

By Karen Sechowski, RD

Karen Sechowski is a registered dietitian in the Greater Chicago area whose passion is prevention through education. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Health Science. She completed her dietetic internship at Prairie View A&M University in the Houston area. 

Maybe you’ve worked hard all year to be healthy. Maybe you haven’t but you still don’t want to gain too much weight this holiday season. Whatever your situation is, it is possible to have fun and be healthy during the holidays because, let’s face it, you will have to face the New Year once all of the festivities are over and done. Follow these ten tips to keep your holidays bright and light:

  1. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. It is a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight, but all it really does is slow down your metabolism and make your body hold onto whatever nutrients you do have because it thinks you are starving. Eat three regular-sized meals or six small meals to keep your metabolism going.
  2. Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle with you at all times so you don’t mistake your thirst for hunger and indulge when you don’t really need to eat.
  3. Remain physically active. The minimum recommended guideline for adults calls for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. During the holidays, it is even more important to keep up with your exercise because of the increased calorie intake.
  4. Choose smaller plates. Literally. The more reasonably sized (smaller) the plate is, the less food you will eat. Studies have shown that adults will mindlessly pile more on their plates if the plate is bigger than they would if the plate were smaller. They were satisfied with the amount on the small plate but asked for more when given the same amount on a big plate.
  5. Choose reduced-fat cheese from the cheese plate. Any cheese from skim or part-skim milk is going to be lower in fat. Mozzarella cheese is a good example of a cheese that is naturally lower in fat.Limburger cheese
  6. Make your dips with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  Greek yogurt is lower in calories and provides a good dose of protein.
  7. Get cooking. Cooking at home can save hundreds of calories because you can control the portion size and what goes into the food.
  8. Eat slowly. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to receive the trigger from the stomach saying it’s full.
  9. Be conscious of your nibbling. It’s hard to resist the extra goodies laying around the house, but those extra calories add up over time.
  10. Everything in moderation. It’s okay to enjoy your favorite food, even if it is high in fat and calories. It is, after all, the holidays. But enjoy one small serving, and jump back on the healthy bandwagon.

Breakfast: important meal!

Have a balanced breakfast that consists of carbohydrates and protein!

  1. Carbohydrates: choose “complex” carbs that will provide soluble fiber. It will slow stomach emptying and help you feel fuller longer. Good sources are oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, apples, and kidney beans
  2. Protein: good lean sources of protein are chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, beans, and lentils

Breakfast ideas: less than 360 calories 

1) 1 large egg cooked in minimum oil with chopped tomatoes and green peppers, 2 slices of whole wheat toast, and 1 cup of skim milk or 100% fruit juice
2) 1 large egg (cooked in minimum oil) wrapped in a 6 in. whole wheat tortilla with 2 Tbsp of salsa, 1/2 cup of skim milk with Cheerios
3) 1/2 cup of oat meal with 1 cup of skim milk and 1 medium apple
4) 2 whole grain waffles with 1 tbsp nut butter (ex. peanut butter) and 1 cup of skim milk
5) 1 hard-boiled eggs with 1 tbsp of nut butter, 1 slice of toast and 1 cup of skim milk
6) 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 1 tbsp nut butter, 1 cup of skim milk and 1 serving of fruit

Homemade Strawberry Smoothie

This simple and easy smoothie is a great snack that will provide calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and some monounsaturated fats (healthy fats)!

Strawberrry Smoothie

Number of servings: 2                       150 calories per serving

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen strawberries

1/2 medium banana

1 cup of skim milk

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 tbsp of almonds

Directions: Blend together all the ingredients and enjoy. You can try it with any of your favorite fruits!

Are Carbohydrates Bad?

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our brain.  Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend 45-65% of the calories from carbohydrates.  If we deprive ourselves of this essential nutrient, we won’t have the proper energy for our daily routine. Lack of carbs in the diet can make us feel tired, weak and light-headed.

When it comes to eating carbohydrates, here are two simple tips:

A. Eat the right type of carbohydrateThere are two types of carbs: simple and complex

  • Simple: white bread, refined rice or pasta, milk, candies, sodas
  • Complex: vegetables, some fruits, whole-grain, legumes (peas and beans), brown rice

Complex carbohydrates are a good source of dietary fiber and fiber is important for a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber also helps lower cholesterol and slow the digestive system making us feel full. The feeling of fullness will prevent us from overeating. Simple carbs do not have fiber and are processed quickly in our bodies. But not all simple carbs are bad. For example, milk is a source of protein and carbohydrate and provides calcium that is necessary for strong bones.

B. Eat in proper portions:

Carbohydrates should be part of every meal in the form of whole grain bread, brown rice, fruit, and chickpeas, but in proper portions. Check out the link below to learn more about appropriate portion sizes.

portion-control-guide

http://www.webmd.com/diet/printable/portion-control-size-guide

ENJOY FOOD …in moderation!

A healthy iftaar

After fasting for more than 12 hours, I am ready to eat! Here are some tips that I keep in mind especially at an iftaar party:

Pick up the healthy options: Most likely we will be eating our traditional/cultural foods.  When it comes to our traditional foods, not all of them are unhealthy. Cholay (chickpeas), fruit chat, daal (lentils), haleem (lentils and meat) are some great food choices. Cholay, daal, and haleem have protein and carbs and usually not cooked with much oil (Click here to check out my nutrient analysis of homemade daal).

Go easy: Items like samosas and pakoray are deep-fried so don’t eat too many. I love these foods and it would be wrong to ask anyone to avoid their favorite foods. The key is to enjoy them in moderation.

Avoid eye-contact: With the dessert I mean… If you keep staring at the dessert…your mouth will start watering and you are more likely to fail at resisting your urge, and going to end up eating it. Tell yourself you are satisfied and just don’t make eye contact! Busy yourself with a good conversation or better yet head out for prayer.

Haleem 3
1 cup Haleem with fresh cucumber and cantaloupe

Remember: Vegetables are very low in calories so you can eat a lot of them!

What about Tandoori Naan?

Just 1 Deep brand Tandoori Naan has 250 kcals! If you eat 2 Chapli Kabobs with 1 naan that will put you over 500 kcals. A better option would be to choose a whole wheat tortilla instead of a naan.

Bottom Line is to eat what you enjoy in moderation. Try to include fruit and some veggies with your dinner to balance your meal, as well as get fiber and nutrients into your body. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

Mindful Eating Tip

“As the size of our dishes increase, so does the amount we scoop onto them. They cause us to serve ourselves more because they make the food look small…The smaller the serving dish, the less you take, and the less you eat” Brian Wansink

After Taraweeh late night healthy snack ideas:

Low-fat frozen yogurt
2 cups of watermelon
Cup of milk with an apple
100% fruit juice popsicle stick
Low-fat popcorn
Click here for more snack ideas of less than 200 kcals

Our body’s response to fasting

Let’s use our laptops as an example to understand how our bodies process what we eat for suhoor and, through it, we can understand how important eating suhoor is for our bodies while we fast. When our laptops are connected to an outlet, it has an instant source of energy. When the laptop batteries are charged, we can use our laptops for the next few hours. 

Dates-1

Similarly, the glucose we consume at suhoor is the instant and main source of energy for our body. Carbohydrates (ex. bread and fruit) are broken down into glucose  and used as energy as well as stored for later use. When glucose stores are full, excess glucose will be converted to fat and stored away (that is why it is important to limit the carbs at each meal so they don’t get converted into excess fat). Excess fat and protein in our meal are also stored until needed for energy.

During fasting: The body will use stored glucose to slowly release glucose for energy into the body in the next 12 hours. Some fat and protein is also used for energy but it is mostly glucose. When glucose stores are empty, our body mostly uses fat.

Now that we understand the physiological response of our body to the food we eat -> realize that you want to eat enough carbs to provide our body and brain with sufficient energy but not too much as we want to tap into our fat reserves and use some fat for energy. That is why it is important to eat a balanced meal!

Nutritious Suhoor

No matter how sleepy you are, don’t skip suhoor (morning meal consumed in Ramadan). Eating breakfast will sustain you enough to be able to perform daily activities without feeling lethargic, having headaches, or feeling irritable. Eat a balanced suhoor that includes a variety of food groups, such as complex carbohydrates (ex. whole wheat), protein (ex. egg), and dairy (ex. milk).

Suhoor 1

Here are some breakfast ideas: each meal is less than 360 calories

1) 1 large egg cooked in minimum oil with chopped tomatoes and green peppers, 2 slices of whole wheat toast, and 1 cup of skim milk or 100% fruit juice
2) 1 large egg (cooked in minimum oil) wrapped in a 6 in. whole wheat tortilla with 2 Tbsp of salsa, 1/2 cup of skim milk with Cheerios
3) 1/2 cup of oat meal with 1 cup of skim milk and 1 medium apple
4) 2 whole grain waffles with 1 tbsp nut butter (ex. peanut butter) and 1 cup of skim milk
5) 1 hard-boiled eggs with 1 tbsp of nut butter, 1 slice of toast and 1 cup of skim milk
6) 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 1 tbsp nut butter, 1 cup of skim milk and 1 serving of fruit

I love smoothies and I will definitely be making smoothies at suhoor for my family! It will provide calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Potassium, and some monounsaturated fats (healthy fats)!

Strawberrry Smoothie

Blend together 1 cup of frozen strawberries, ½ medium banana, 1 cup of skim milk, ½ cup plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt, and 1 tbsp of almonds. Alternatively, you can try it with any of your favorite fruits!

For parents with picky eaters: if you have children who refuse to eat anything else besides cereal, try this smoothie. You can even make it the night before!

Also, try my breakfast smoothie recipe (about 280 calories per serving)! Don’t make this the night before as it will get too thick by suhoor time.

Ramadan Nutrition Tips

With only few days left until Ramadan, It is important to know how to eat healthy and meet our body’s needs while fasting for more than 12 hours.

Meals:

Have balanced meals that include carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats that will also provide vitamins and minerals

  1. Carbohydrates: choose “complex” carbs which will provide soluble fiber that will slow stomach emptying and help you feel fuller longer. Good sources are oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, apples, and kidney beans
  2. Protein: good sources are chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, beans, and lentils
  3. Healthy fats: good sources are walnuts, almonds, avocados, and fish
  4. Avoid salty foods: they will make your more thirsty!

Hydration:

Hydration

Between iftaar and suhoor try to drink plenty of water. Stay away from sugary drinks. You don’t have to completely avoid traditional drinks at iftaar, but enjoy them in small portions and limit them to 2-3 times a week. If you are craving a sweet drink, I would recommend these refreshing drinks:

  • 100% fruit juice
  • 100% coconut water
  • 100% homemade smoothie

Read the label to make sure you pick up 100% fruit juice with no added sugar.

How much water should I drink? Aim to drink a minimum of 3 water bottles (1500 ml) between Iftaar and Suhoor. Since it’s summer, it wouldn’t be a stretch to shoot for even 5 bottles!

In my next few posts, I will discuss healthy eats at Suhoor and Iftaar!

Karhai Chicken

Number of servings: 6          Serving size: 2 pieces of chicken          Calories: 240 calories

Ingredients: 

Shan Meathi 2

1 whole chicken
8 medium sized tomatoes (cubed)
1 cup oil
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp (turmeric powder)
2 Tbsp cayenne pepper flakes
½ tsp red chili powder 5-6  green chili  (split into half and remove the seeds)
2 Tbsp plain low fat yogurt
11/2 tsp fenugreek leaves (Qasuri Methi)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh cilantro

Directions:

1. Heat the oil and add garlic, ginger, and chicken. Cook the chicken on high heat until it turns white.
2. Add cayenne pepper flakes, red chili powder, turmeric powder, and tomatoes.  Cook until there is very little water remaining in the pan.
3. Add yogurt and cook till water dries up and oil has surfaced.
4. Add fenugreek leaves (qasuri methi) and green chilies.
5. Add 1 tsp salt or as desired.Karhai Chicken 3 6. Optional: add ground gram masala
7. Garnish with cilantro

Note: the calories are based on the estimate that 5.3% of the corn oil was absorbed and rest was burned. Absorption depends on the heat, type of oil, and food that is being cooked.  Information is based on this research article.

200 calories or less: snack ideas

First I would like to share some tips on healthy snacking:

  • Serving size is important – calories can add up easily
  • Try to include protein – dairy, nuts, beans, etc

  • Cook and freeze a big batch of beans so they are readily available
  • If you are still hungry after the snack – munch on raw veggies
  • Eat a healthy snack between your lunch and dinner, so you don’t over eat at dinner time

cherries

2 low-fat string cheese (50 kcals each) and 1 cup of fresh fruit

¼ cup hummus and veggies (carrot/celery sticks)

Low-fat yogurt with 1 cup of fresh fruit

A small apple with 1 Tbsp of nut butter

½ cup of chickpeas mixed with 1 cup of plain non-fat yogurt

 1 whole wheat bread with 1 Tbsp of nut butter

Non-fat Greek yogurt (6 oz) with 6 almonds

½ cup non-fat cottage cheese with 1 cup of fresh fruit

1 cup of kidney beans topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt

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