Heavy Metals Can Be Bad for Health

Posted August 12th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Supplements, The News-Press Column

Most people hear the term “heavy metal” and think of the music a 19-year-old boy prefers. But in fact, there are 35 metals that cause concern, nutritionally, and 23 of these elements are the “heavy” metals, meaning they have at least five times the gravity of water.

Some of them, in small amounts, are an essential component of good nutritional health. Those metals called “the trace elements” – iron, copper, manganese, and zinc – naturally occur in our vegetables and fruit, and are always included in common multivitamins.

Zinc is widely marketed as a way to reduce the severity of a head cold, and you’ll find it in many a popular lozenge.

Here’s the weird part of the story though: while a few are beneficial in small quantities, many can do irreparable harm in large quantity.

Toxic doses of heavy metals can result in damage to one’s mental capacity, organs and nervous system.

Prolonged exposure to large amounts creates an even worse scenario: that of severe debilitation.

We’ve all heard the jokes about arsenic poisoning, but it’s no laughing matter if it gets into your system. We know that uranium kills, and we’re glued to shows like “24″ when uranium rods for nuclear reactors go missing.

Another well-known danger is mercury. Word is finally getting around about the danger of mercury fillings in our teeth, as well as that of mercury in fish; I’ve written a column on that very topic earlier this year (see my blog to read it).

In children, ingestion is the most common cause of toxicity; in adults, the culprit is environmental exposure. Toxicity occurs when the body doesn’t metabolize the heavy metal; instead, it builds up in soft tissues. Food, water and even air (fumes) can all be delivery vehicles.

The skin is another critical way these dangers can enter the body, and the manufacturing, agriculture, and pharmaceutical industries present more risk than others. But toxic heavy metals can be present in industrial and residential settings.

Testing for heavy metal toxicity starts with hair analysis. Once toxicity is established, a regimen of chelation therapy is begun, via drugs or intravenously. A high-fat diet during this time will facilitate the excretion of heavy metals. Symptoms will improve quite soon, but treatment can last up to two years.

Beware of detoxing with algae supplements like spirulina and chlorella, however; they work by absorbing heavy metals, so can backfire. Dr. Gary Pynckel in Fort Myers is a super resource, should you or someone you know need heavy metal therapy. Visit drpynckel.com for more information.

So how does one avoid excessive heavy metal intake?

Eating organic foods spares the body heavy metals used in farming and storage.

A high-fiber diet can also help. And amazingly, the herb cilantro – often used in Mexican food – has, in clinical trials and research, quickly moved toxic metals out of brain and spinal cord tissue.

Pass the guacamole.

Smoothies Great in Many Ways

Smoothies are a great snack or meal replacement (and a mobile one at that). They’re especially healthy as a meal replacement if you follow my recommended pattern of eating five to six small meals per day.

Smoothies can also be effective for weight gain or weight loss and are super for helping you stay healthy. It’s all about what goes in the blender, and the beauty of smoothies is that you can customize them not only to your taste, but also to your dietary needs.

If, for example, you need a pick-me-up to aid in recovery after an athletic event or exercise, use orange juice, apple juice, skim milk, ice, soymilk, pineapple juice, Gatorade, water or low-fat chocolate milk as the liquid base. I typically recommend liquid recovery over solid because it’s absorbed faster, is quick to intake and easier to talk someone into doing if they’re hesitant to eat after a workout.

There’s also the rehydration factor.

I recommend smoothies and liquid supplements for the same reasons: they’re easier to consume, and have a faster availability of nutrients due to shorter transit time from ingestion to utilization. The science of nutrition says, quite simply, that liquids simply have a faster absorption rate.

If you’re trying to add protein to your diet, blend natural peanut butter, skim milk or almonds into your smoothie. Green tea smoothies can aid in weight loss as well as give you a healthy dose of antioxidants. I recommend Stevia, Agave and Splenda when you want to add sweetener.

At our house, we use frozen strawberries, banana, cranberry grape juice, AminoRip protein supplement and ice. If we want to make more of a shake, we add skim milk, or just replace the cran-grape with skim milk. When making smoothies for my 14-year-old son, however, I would use all of the above and replace skim milk with whole milk.

After-school snacks that include protein are another way to power-pack your kids with nutrient-dense foods. Almond milk, kale, cacao nibs and vanilla rice protein make a really good smoothie.

Keep your fridge stocked with smoothie ingredients and you’ll be far more likely to whip up a healthy treat for yourself, your friends or family. Buy fresh fruit in season and freeze it.

Yogurt smoothies made with frozen bananas or strawberries are terrific. Some of the tastiest fruits for smoothies include blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, banana, apples, pineapple and peaches.

Get creative in how you mix them, and make yourself happy. Experimentation can lead to some wonderful surprises for your palate. It’s that easy.

Frozen fruit smoothies are a quick, nutritious breakfast food, hydrating you early and giving your body the full range of nature’s bioavailable vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. They’re also full of natural fiber and help boost the immune system. You sure can’t say that about a donut.

I love my Magic Bullet blender and the manufacturer has a ton of great smoothie recipes on its “Buy the Bullet” company website. Share your favorite recipe with me via the comments column at The News-Press.com, or on my Facebook page, and I will post the recipe, along with my thoughts, and/or recommended changes.

Don’t be tempted to skip a meal, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Substitute a smoothie instead. And if the thought of cleaning a blender is making your resistant to this oh-so-healthy option, I have fallen prey to that myself. Just head straight for Liquid Nutrition. You might see me there!

Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition & Sports Specialty in Florida. Hastings can be contacted at Elaine@associatesinnutrition.com or by visiting AssociatesinNutrition.com. Follow her on Twitter @elainehastings

Take the Challenge, Change your Life!

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Seafood, Shellfish Important for Adults, Kids

Posted April 27th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

Fish: A Four-Letter Word for Healthy!

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet, and nowhere is fresh fish easier to find than the coast. Increase your odds for a long and healthy life with a simple, tasty change: add fish to your weekly menus.

Here are some nutrition facts to motivate you. Fish is a lean, low-calorie source of protein and a great source of critical omega-3 fatty acids. These play a crucial role in brain function, as well as growth and development, and may even reduce the risk of heart disease.

But here’s the catch: the body can’t make them. We must go to the source for omega-3s, and in a seafood-centric environment, that’s easy. They come from fish – such as salmon, tuna, and halibut; other seafood, including algae and krill; some plants; and nut oils.

A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to the whole family’s well-being. Just remember, you don’t have to go overboard to reap the benefits. A little bit of “daily catch” goes a long way. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week (especially fatty fish like trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon) at least twice a week. I personally recommend consuming no more than one fish meal per week from predatory fish (shark, tuna, swordfish, etc.) and no more than two per week from non-predatory fish (sardines, salmon, shrimp, etc.). Very few palate-challenged people will be overwhelmed by this schedule.

Some of you are thinking ‘I know fish is good for you, but my family doesn’t really like it.’ There are many recipes that you can use which will increase the appeal. Look for salmon stuffed with crab and breadcrumbs, or use a tasty pesto to enhance the flavor (Costco offers one of the best I’ve found, in its refrigerated section) . Add grilled fish to a salad loaded with other items. Throw some shellfish into your marinara. Be creative and research ways that might make your family happy when consuming fish or shellfish. Here are two seafood recipes which will help:

Easy, tasty tuna salad
1can (12 oz) water-packed solid white tuna, drained
1/3 cup Yoplait® Fat Free plain yogurt
1can (4 oz) crushed pineapple, drained; or grapes
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup); or sweet onion
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, mix tuna, yogurt, pineapple, celery, pecans, mustard, and cinnamon.
1 serving has approximately 180 Calories, Calories from Fat 50; Total Fat 6g (Saturated Fat 1/2g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 25mg; Sodium 420mg; Total Carbohydrate 11g (Dietary Fiber 1g, Sugars 9g); Protein 22g.

Shrimp tomato sauce over pasta; makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small bunch scallions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
¾ cup dry white wine or nonalcoholic white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil
12 fresh or frozen and thawed jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
8 ounces spaghetti
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Warm oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add scallions and garlic. Cook 10 minutes, or just until scallions begin to turn golden.
2. Add tomatoes, wine, sugar, and 1/2 cup parsley or basil. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until sauce is slightly thickened.
3. Add shrimp and return to a summer. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until shrimp is opaque.
4. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add sauce and toss to mix.
5. Sprinkle with Parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup parsley or basil.
Approximately 1 serving has about Calories 380, Calories from Fat 60; Total Fat 7g (Saturated Fat 2g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 650mg; Total Carbohydrate 59g (Dietary Fiber 6g, Sugars 10g); Protein 19g

Next week, I’ll share some insights about mercury in fish. We’ll sort the truths from the rumors so you can relax at mealtime.

Berries may slow aging, protect against ailments

Posted April 6th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

Lions and tigers and berries, oh my! When following the yellow brick road to good health, berries are a wonderful snack to enjoy along the way.

You may already be adding sliced strawberries to your granola or cereal in the morning, but once you uncover the many different health benefits of berries, you will want to add those little marvels to every meal. Why not? They are berry, berry good for your skin, health and heart.

Berries are the perfect snack food. Not only are they naturally sweet and low in calories, but they are also high in fiber, making them a great choice for fending off the between-meal munchies. In addition, berries are loaded with vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that give your immune system a boost while helping to prevent the cell damage that leads to diseases such as cancer.

Eating the sweet treats may even help slow down the natural aging process, improving skin’s appearance from the inside out.

Berries are truly little wonders of nature. Each type of berry carries its own special health properties. For example:

- Blueberries contain anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that help with memory functions.

- Raspberries are full of ellagic acid, a compound that is known for its cancer-fighting abilities.

- Strawberries are high in vitamin C, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.

- Cranberries contain compounds that can treat or prevent many urinary tract infections.

In addition, research is under way to determine how different berries contribute to weight loss. In order to obtain the wide spectrum of health benefits that berries provide, it is best to add a variety of different types to your diet.

Choosing from the large selection of berries that are available in your local farmers market, supermarket or health food store will prove to be a fun and delicious experience. Along with the more well-known choices such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries, expand your tastes by exploring the delectable flavors of blackberries, boysenberries, currants and honeyberries.

Selecting fresh, local, organic berries is always the best option, yet berries retain most of their nutritional value even when they are frozen or dehydrated. So, stock up on fresh berries when they are in season, but feel free to opt for canned, frozen and dried berries to benefit from their valuable phytonutrients year-round.

Just be sure to read nutrition labels when buying dried or frozen berries. Steer clear of those that contain added sugar or are packed in heavy syrup, which adds unnecessary calories.

With just a quick rinse, most berries are ready to be tossed into a storage bag or portable container for easy snacking on the go. While berries are delicious and easy to enjoy on their own, there are many more ways to enjoy those nutritional powerhouses.

- Blend frozen berries with fat-free yogurt for a refreshing smoothie.

- Top fresh berries with low-fat whipped topping for a speedy dessert.

- Add berries to whole-grain waffles or pancakes for a filling breakfast.

- Layer berries with granola and yogurt for a decadent parfait.

Now that you know the numerous health benefits surrounding berries, and are ready to add them to every meal, head out to your local market or produce stand to load up on the ultimate treat – just watch out for any lions, tigers and bears on the way.

Read my News-Press column: Nutrition Notes: Online data aids health effort

Posted January 27th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

With the recent launch of Get Fit Lee, a local health initiative challenging Lee County residents to collectively lose one million pounds of body fat, the concept of tracking your meals, exercise and medical information online or through a food diary can benefit participants or anyone needing nutritional and fitness support and guidance.

How it works

Most programs offer a quick view, summarizing your latest meal and caloric intake, calories burned and medical information. Online meal planning offers thousands of pre-built meal plans. Look for programs developed by registered dietitians that utilize a large database including popular brand-name and restaurant foods. In addition, many programs allow you to create your own plan according to your taste and needs.

For example, the wellness page on virtualdietitians.com, an online tracking system, provides a quick view, summarizing your latest meal and caloric intake, calories burned and medical information. Daily tips and inspirational messages help you along the way.

The meal planning and tracking page will give you thousands of meal plans developed by registered dietitians.

The large database includes brand-name and ethnic foods and fast food restaurants.

If you prefer, you can use physician-recommended programs or create your own plan according to your taste and needs.

With online nutritional tracking programs, you have the ability to:

• Access information from a large database of foods including recipes, ethnic foods and fast food chains.

• Calculate exercise duration to burn excess calories.

• Monitor your health on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

• Upload data directly from your glucometer, an at-home blood sugar monitoring device.

• Monitor the effect that foods and exercises have on your health.

• Work with your dietitian, nutritionist, educator or personal trainer online in real-time.

• Benefit from knowing your information is 100 percent private and secure.

• Create shopping lists.

• Customize your meal plans.

• Get access to thousands of pre-built meal plans.

• Get nutritional facts on your recipes calculated for you. 

• View and print detailed reports in table or multiple graphic formats (blood glucose, blood pressure, pump entries, weight, height, caloric intake and expenditure)

• Log your progress in an online journal.

Whether you choose an online resource for tracking nutrition and exercise or you simply use a pen and paper, keeping track of what you eat is important, including calories and portion sizes, number of calories burned and emotions or feelings.

Food journaling is one of the most successful tools for people trying to lose weight. In fact, a recent study found that dieters who tracked their food intake lost twice as much as those who did not track their food.

By logging when and how much you eat, along with your physical activity, you can better monitor your eating habits and nutritional deficiencies, control binge eating and connect eating to emotions.

In general, you can hold yourself accountable for your fitness and nutrition.

Whether you track your progress online, participate in the Get Fit Lee or another fitness program, making small lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on your health.

Read Today’s News-Press Column: Health risks, medical costs tied to obesity increase

Posted December 8th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

As obesity rates in the United States continue to rise at an alarming rate, so do the medical costs associated with weight-related illnesses. Obesity is linked to many of the top chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many forms of cancer. The treatments for these illnesses routinely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to a 1998 study, obesity accounted for 9.1 percent of all medical expenditures or approximately $78.5 billion. With one in every three American adults diagnosed as obese, the health risks and associated medical costs continue to increase.

Health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol are more common in people who are obese, so these factors have contributed to an increase in doctor visits and hospital admissions for these patients. People are defined as overweight if their body mass index is 25-29.9 and obese if their BMI is greater than 30.

Overall, medical costs for a person within a normal weight range are estimated at $3,442 per year, while a person diagnosed as obese spends an average of $4,871.

Given the disparity of these costs, one can argue that obesity may be one of the most significant reasons for the increase in medical costs in the country. The average American is now about 23 pounds overweight, so reducing this health crisis should be a priority. As a country, the United States is an estimated 4.6 billion pounds overweight.

Simply put, obesity is an epidemic that is increasing the number of associated medical conditions and the resulting rise in health care costs. As a result, the U.S. surgeon general is calling upon the nation to work together in finding solutions and has provided the health care community with guidelines for evaluating and treating overweight and obese patients, including safe and effective weight-loss principles.

Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity. In addition, behavioral changes such as adopting healthier eating habits and establishing an exercise routine are very important for people identified as overweight or obese.

These patients should seek the support of their doctor or a registered dietitian who can provide them with proper nutritional guidelines and recommend a fitness program. Prevention and education are critical to reducing the high rate of obesity and associated health risks and costs.

Read Today’s News-Press Column: Don’t let travel be a detour around healthy eating

Posted December 1st, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Exercise Tips, Meal Tips, The News-Press Column

Traveling during this holiday season doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your healthy eating and exercise routine. The best approach is to plan ahead to avoid overeating and to fit exercise into your travel plans.

Just as you would schedule vacation activities, you should think about your meals or dining plans. Planning ahead is the best way to avoid unwanted pounds and enjoy a “guilt-free” vacation.

Whether you are traveling by airplane or automobile, you can plan your snacks and meals with nutritious options. Eating healthy snacks every two to four hours can help you feel energized and keep you from overeating when it is time to stop for a meal.

For example, pack small plastic bags or containers with snacks such as nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, low-sugar and low-fat power or granola bars, low-fat cheese, hard-boiled eggs, pretzels, baked whole grain crackers, sandwiches made with whole grain bread with peanut butter or lean meats, or fresh fruits and vegetables. A combination of a carbohydrates and proteins are a good choice as these foods are absorbed more slowly, helping to curb hunger and provide more satisfaction.

In addition, drink lots of water and keep it accessible.

If you plan to dine out during your travels, avoid fast food restaurants or those with limited choices. Sub shops offer better choices for brief stops. Select sandwich ingredients including whole grain bread, lean meats and lots of vegetables. A quick and nutritious breakfast choice is a bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit, filled with vitamins and fiber. In addition, yogurt and hard-boiled eggs are excellent sources of protein. You can also look for single-serving whole grain cereals with low-fat milk.

Another option is to split a restaurant meal with your traveling buddy. Most restaurants provide more than enough food for two people in one entree. Eat the vegetables that come with the meal first. If the meal does not come with a vegetable ask for a side dish. Another idea is to skip the entree and replace a meal with a healthy soup and salad.

Choose wisely when ordering salads. Stay away from taco salads or ones that are topped with fried chicken strips. Remember to select foods that are prepared with healthier, low-fat ingredients and choose grilled over fried foods.

In addition to maintaining good eating habits, you should include exercise during your travels. If you are driving, it is best to stop in a safe location every two to three hours to stretch your legs. Take a quick walk around a rest area, do a few jumping jacks and take time to stretch your muscles. If you are traveling by plane, you can get up, walk briefly and stretch as well. Moving around will help keep your metabolism going while preventing you from feeling drowsy.

Traveling is not an excuse for making unhealthy choices. By planning ahead and making smart decisions, you can stay on track, eat well and enjoy your holiday vacation.

Read Today’s News-Press Column: Plan ahead and avoid packing on unwanted holiday pounds in ’09

Posted November 24th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Meal Tips, The News-Press Column
With parties, family dinners and other holiday happenings, hosts are likely to find their refrigerators stuffed with extra helpings. Eating leftovers can contribute to adding unwanted pounds during these festive times.

To help prevent weight gain during the holidays, you may want to avoid indulging in high-calorie leftovers by planning ahead and creating healthy snacks and meals.

Make the most of your leftover ham, turkey and trimmings by creating nutritious meals and snacks to keep them from weighing you down. As a host for holiday meals, plan ahead and buy plenty of plastic containers to send your guests home with food to limit the amount of extra food in your refrigerator.

In addition, you can take a few containers into the office for your colleagues to enjoy. If you prefer, keep some of the lower-calorie options such as fruits, vegetables and white meat from the turkey for you and your family. These leftovers can be used to make healthy meals or snacks over the next several days.

There are several simple ways to use your holiday leftovers.

Be creative and seek out healthy, low-carbohydrate and low-fat recipes. For example, use low- or fat-free tortillas to wrap up turkey and vegetables for a healthy lunch. Add a small amount of cranberry sauce to give your turkey wrap more festive flavor.

Use turkey, ham or other meat on top of greens and vegetables to create a healthy salad. Add fruit, low- or fat-free cheese and a few nuts into the salad for a scrumptious mix.

For a high-protein breakfast, use egg whites, turkey or ham, vegetables and a hint of low-fat cheese. It’s also a great time of year to make homemade soups using extra meats and vegetables.

In addition, you can make nutritious snacks such as vegetable trays and turkey and cheese on whole grain crackers.

Another way to prevent overeating during the holidays is to control the portions you serve yourself and guests. After dishing out appropriate serving sizes to your friends and family, you can immediately put the leftovers into a container and place them into the refrigerator or freezer.

Be proactive and dish out a serving size that equals approximately 200 calories or less to control your portion sizes. By removing the food from the table, you can curb the temptation for a second helping.

While it is often tradition for guests to move from the dining table to the couch to watch football or take a rest, invite the group outside for a stroll around the neighborhood or engage them in a friendly game of football. Encouraging guests to be active will limit the urge to overeat while burning some of those high-calorie helpings they’ve enjoyed.

By serving your guests appropriate portion sizes and providing them with the remaining food to create healthy meals and snacks, you can help your loved ones avoid those extra holiday pounds. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers. Hastings can be contacted at Elaine@eatrightRD.com or by visiting AssociatesinNutrition.com. Visit her blog for the latest information on nutrition and great tips for staying healthy: AssociatesinNutrition.com/wordpress.

Read Today’s News-Press Column: Body mass index useful to gauge healthy weight

Posted November 17th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

The holidays are gaining on us. Be careful, or the pounds will follow close behind. While you should enjoy the holiday season, keep a watchful eye on your calorie intake and weight by checking the scale. Another useful tool for tracking your weight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI).

Do you know if you are within a healthy weight range, overweight or even obese? Do you know how your weight measures up according to your height? BMI is a fairly good indicator of a person’s body fat based on height and weight. It also is used to assess your risk of certain weight-related health conditions.

To calculate your BMI, you will need to divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiply that by 703. The formula is: weight/(height in inches)2 x 703.

A safe range for most healthy people is between 18.5 and 25. A number below 18.5 could indicate that you are underweight or even malnourished. If your number is above 25, you may be overweight. A BMI over 30 indicates that you could be obese.

This does not take into consideration different body types, including bodybuilders who accumulate an increased weight due to muscle. Because BMI is used to calculate weight and height, someone with large muscle mass and a low percentage of body fat may have the same number as someone who is obese.

Also, it could underestimate body fat if there is a lack of muscle mass in elderly people as well. It is good to keep in mind that this is just one factor to help measure weight. Additional factors to consider include waist circumference, physical activity, diet and lifestyle habits, including smoking.

As your BMI increases, so does the risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Along with tracking your BMI, people can measure their waist to help determine if they are overweight or obese. Those who have a waist size of more than 35 inches for women, or more than 40 inches for men, have a higher risk of developing obesity-related health problems. Other risk factors for disease include family history, diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and activity levels.

While gaining a few pounds over the holidays is common, the pounds can quickly add up. Tracking your BMI is one of several important tools to help you understand your weight and potential risk of developing disease. If your BMI is in the overweight or obese range, you should consider contacting a professional to help you.

Regardless of your BMI, if you are planning to change your diet or exercise routine, you should consult a registered, licensed dietitian or your physician. For an at-home resource, you can track your healthy habits by visiting NETThealthyDiet. com for your free personalized diet profile, including your BMI and daily caloric needs.

Read today’s News-Press column: You’ll be thankful if you don’t overeat on Thanksgiving

Posted November 10th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Meal Tips, The News-Press Column

Thanksgiving Day meals are often referred to as a “feast” among friends and family. The hosts strive to outdo themselves in the culinary arts as guests oblige and indulge.

For many, Thanksgiving is a day we allow ourselves to eat as much as we want or take a “cheat day” from routine balanced meals. Unfortunately, after the feast, many people find themselves feeling miserable about overeating.

While turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are all considered staples in Thanksgiving cuisine, these traditional favorites can be filled with unhealthy fat and calories. The average Thanksgiving dinner has more than 2,000 calories – a real challenge if you are watching your waistline or trying to keep within a recommended daily calorie intake.

Fortunately, there is a way to enjoy the Thanksgiving Day feast with plenty of simple, delicious recipes that will leave you satisfied. Preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal that’s lower in fat and calories requires a little planning and research to find recipes that are healthier and lower in calories and fat, but well worth it.

For those responsible for planning and cooking the meal, you can reduce calories by substituting butter and cream sauces with lower-fat or fat-free ingredients such as fat-free sour cream, fat-free cream of mushroom soup and fat-free cheese.

Whole milk can be substituted with 2 percent or skim milk and whole eggs replaced with egg whites.

If you plan to serve turkey, select the turkey breast rather than the whole bird because breast meat is lower in calories. If you do buy a whole turkey, avoid “self-basting” turkeys, as they often contain added fat. Rather than rubbing the skin with butter or oil, use fat-free cooking spray and season it with salt, pepper or a favorite seasoning.

Resist the old tradition of filling the turkey with breads and stuffing. Instead, stuff the cavity with halved onions, lemons, apples and sprigs of fresh herbs. To make healthy but tasty homemade gravy, use vegetable oil instead of turkey drippings to limit saturated fat and cholesterol.

For those who insist on adding stuffing, consider using wild rice and grains, which are more nutritious than bread stuffing. Add roasted nuts instead of meat for added flavor.

Instead of sweet potato and yam casseroles, baked whole sweet potatoes are a low-calorie alternative. Fresh vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, asparagus, beans or salad are nutritious options compared to traditional vegetable casseroles filled with heavy creams and sauces.

Make a healthy cranberry relish instead of a sauce to cut down on the sugar. Because most of the fat in pies is found in the crust, use a reduced-fat graham cracker crust or make a crust-free pie. To reduce calories even more, offer fruit, sherbet or frozen yogurt for dessert.

If you are a guest and cannot control the preparation of the meal, simply limit yourself to smaller portions. In addition, guests can forgo appetizers or bring a vegetable tray to share and enjoy. Raw vegetables are filling and can reduce the risk of overeating during the meal.

Another way to limit calorie intake is to drink lots of water, which is both filling and hydrating.

In addition to proper hydration and portion control, staying active can help you avoid overeating and feel better. Take a walk around the neighborhood or engage the family in a game of football. Avoid eating and sitting, which can contribute to overeating and weight gain.

With a little planning, discipline and increased activity, you can enjoy the Thanksgiving meal and time with family without the guilt. Thanksgiving Day is a great opportunity to create healthy new traditions with family and friends.