Holiday Nutrition Dr. Amy’s Wellness Tip for December
Contributed by Dr. Amy Whittington, Trilogy’s Naturopathic Physician
For so many people, the holidays are filled with parties, family, and of course, food and drinks. Nearly a year’s worth of dietary work can go down the drain in a matter of weeks. Occasionally straying from your normal nutrition is okay. After all, food is very much a part of our social, mental, and emotional health; many of us relate food with fond memories and certain traditions, even if over the years we have discovered those traditions may not be so good for our physiques. Moderation is vital to healthy indulgence, along with making wiser choices. I am excited to share with you considerations, or tricks of trade, if you will, to take advantage of so that you can have your pie (or chocolate, or libations, etc.) and eat it too.
If you’d like to partake in a little more sugar than usual during the holidays, it is wise to also include more dietary fiber. Fiber, found in beans, whole grains, vegetables, and some fruit, takes longer to digest than other nutrients. This makes fiber helpful in slowing the rate of the absorption of sugar into your blood stream. Slower absorption means decreased spikes in your blood sugar, which are often followed by lows. It’s these low points that lead you back to the dessert table after a couple of hours in an effort to raise your blood sugar back up to a comfortable level. Conversely, stable blood sugar helps decrease sugar cravings and increase energy levels. Furthermore, erratic blood sugar levels lead to increased production of insulin and cortisol, two hormones that help the body store fat. Proper blood sugar levels decrease this message of storage, making weight management much easier.
Nature has shown us how to balance the intake of sugar. A great example is to compare the consumption of apple juice to the consumption of an apple. If you drink a glass of juice, you get a blood sugar spike. If you eat an apple, you don’t. Due to fiber content, people with overt blood sugar disruption can consume moderated whole fruits, but not juices. The fiber in the apple buffers the sugar simply by slowing its absorption. We can apply this concept to other foods, by consuming fiber (or protein, which can also serve as a buffer) close to the same time as sugars. Hitting the veggie tray can work as your fiber intake, or use of psyllium, chia, or flax seeds (perhaps pre-party if you know you are going to be exposed to a lot of sugary choices). The fiber or protein will also make you feel fuller so that your moderate intake doesn’t become overconsumption. Simply making sure that your desserts, alcohol, and sugary drinks are consumed closer to meals helps decrease troublesome blood sugar spikes as well. Also, be mindful that many of the sauces found on our favorite holiday foods also contain sugar, and of course, rolls, white breads, and pastas easily break down into simple sugars once in the body.
This is not to say that moderation of sugars is still not vital (and continued avoidance if you suffer from diabetes or any other sugar metabolism issue). At the end of the day, sugar provides a high amount of calories without nutritional value. So, make wise choices and when you do choose to indulge in a little sugar, make sure it is in something you really enjoy.
In addition to making sure that you maintain a high fiber intake, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. As you increase your intake of other beverages, it can be easy to forget to maintain your water intake. This can be disruptive to both your metabolism and digestive system. Remember that coffee and tea are diuretics; if you find yourself drinking more of these, be sure to increase your water intake.
Some seasonal choices offer health boosts that are great to take advantage of through the holidays. Many people tend to use more spices and herbs in their cooking which can have various health benefits. Including garlic, oregano, rosemary, and onions in soups and other dishes can help your body defend against the many viruses and bacteria passed around while we are in close contact with others. Even our baked items can pack a powerful nutritional and medicinal punch.
Peppermint is useful in increasing circulation and improving digestion. Most members of the menthol family are anti-spasmodic (relaxing) to the digestive tract and help increase the rate of digestion, therefore decreasing indigestion and nausea. This benefit is especially useful during the holidays when we are eating richer, and more, food. In fact, peppermint is so effective at decreasing digestive stress, research shows it can effectively relieve symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) when taken on a regular basis. You can also use peppermint on an as-needed basis for occasional digestive disturbances. In addition to digestive support, peppermint also aids in relaxing the respiratory tract, and those who find themselves suffering from a pesky viralrelated cough, can find great relief with it.
Ginger is also beneficial in improving circulation, so much so that it can be very warming to those having difficulty adjusting to the cold weather. The increase in circulation also works to decrease symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease and poor circulation and has even shown positive results in studies associated with venous insufficiency and varicosities.
Other foods to gravitate toward are pumpkin and dark chocolate. Both of these foods are such powerful super foods that I dedicated full articles to each, which can be found in the archives of MyTrilogyLife. Pumpkin is a fruit undervalued for its nutritive value, probably because we have a tendency to eat it in the form of a pie, which is usually not the best strategy for getting your fruits. That being said, a moderate amount of pie and other pumpkin treats pack a nutritive punch full of anti-oxidants, fiber, and carotenoids. Lutein, the same carotenoid responsible for the orange color in carrots, provides unmatched protection for eye health, and a half of a cup of pumpkin contains about five grams of fiber, making it a good dessert choice, as it will lead to less of a blood sugar spike.
Chocolate, especially dark of at least 70% cacao, contains powerful anti-oxidants called flavonols. Flavonols have been shown to regulate blood pressure and decrease the arterial inflammation that leads to heart disease. If that’s not enough to convince you chocolate is a good choice, flavonols are also antiaging, making a moderate amount of chocolate a healthy choice.
And so, from me to you, Happy Holidays. Go and enjoy, even if your nutritional parameters are expanded a tad. Moderate; strategically consume protein and fiber; and look to include powerful herbs and super foods in your holiday dishes. Most of all, enjoy your family, your friends, and your traditions, and we’ll meet back here in January.
Stay healthy and be well!
– Amy Whittington, NMD