Holiday Eating – Mixed Emotions and Mindful Morsels

December 16, 2014 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Foodland, Health, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Holiday eating is filled with a mix of emotions. Some of the emotions are positive; the anticipation of eating Mom’s finest recipes – memories of happy times together with family and friends blanketing the experience. Just looking forward to the traditional recipes that our individual families take pleasure in is part of the enjoyment of the season. Sadly, for many of us, there are some dark emotions lurking in the background of our minds. “I can’t believe I ate the WHOLE THING;” or the delayed effect - the regrets that don’t come out until somewhere around New Years Day. So that’s why I say a ‘mix of emotions.’

Each of us, who lives in a land of plenty, would be wise to make some decisions in advance about how we will confront holiday eating. For some the decision is to merely eat whatever crosses our path and in whatever amount that seems fitting at the time. Yet for others, thoughts of far too many calories and rich fatty menu items abound; sodium packed goodies impacting our blood pressure; and the surfeit of sweets with resulting blood sugar and/or cardiovascular health problems may rightly plague our minds. Some are able to forgo all the special treats that are traditionally offered only during that holiday season. Others of us consider holiday meals and foods one of the pleasures of life; and are not willing to forgo all that enjoyment. Of course, there is plenty of advice on how to make lower calorie recipes; even Spartan holiday meals. But if some of the traditional, rich, high-calorie foods will grace the table where you eat, you may be relegated to a colossal bout of dread and remorse.

Today, I decided to share a little success that I had last week. We had a group of 40 people over and I had an array of homemade and store purchased candy, nuts, and nut bread, and so on – traditional holiday goodies. In addition, I had a homemade veggie platter with Greek-style cucumber dip with dill – called tzatziki; and some guacamole too.

Of course, it’s not a surprise to learn that if we eat more of the vegetables than of the sweets then we can walk away with a lower calorie intake and less sugar and fat. But it’s not as straight forward as that.

My success came in the fact that, in advance I planned to allow myself liberal consumption of the vegetable platter. I enjoyed enough of the vegetables that it really curbed my desire for the sweets. I want you to know that I did eat some of the sweets, but far less than without the ample vegetables. And the frosting on the proverbial cake was that the dip was far lower in calories than a traditional dip made with sour cream. That difference can add up importantly. So today, I thought I’d share this experience for your consideration.

Dip is not usually considered health food; but tzatziki, a traditional dip/sauce from Greece is in actuality very healthy. I will share a little information about this recipe, because it (or other substitutions like it) may be able to help you get through the holidays without as much remorse in the end.

To begin with let’s just compare two ingredients; one or the other is often the base of dip recipes. Plain non-fat Greek yogurt and sour cream are the two that I’m comparing here. First, plain non-fat Greek yogurt, 72% of the calories come from protein and 28% come from carbs. That’s only 4 grams of sugar from the lactose – that’s not much. It has no saturated fat or cholesterol. It only has 41mg of sodium and 59 calories in 3 ounces (8.3 tablespoons). This small serving even offers a healthy 118 mg of calcium. Second, let’s look at sour cream. Sour cream gets, by far, most of the calories from fat – 90% in fact and most of that fat from saturated fat. Although it does have 110mg of calcium, it also has 52 mg of cholesterol and 80 mg of sodium. It, too, only has 4 grams of sugar; but only gives 2 grams of protein. The big differences are the calories for sour cream are 193 for only 3 ounces; that is over 3 times the calories; double the sodium; and less than a fifth of the protein.

So the point is, if we eat a couple servings of dip made primarily from non-fat Greek yogurt, instead of a dip made with sour cream, we consume 268 fewer calories, from just one item on the menu. Now are you thinking what can 268 fewer calories mean to my holiday eating? Yes, it seems insignificant, but review, my article of over four years ago; Making a Difference in the Mindless Margin, based upon Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. The fact is that if we eat 268 calories less every day for a year, we would weigh 26.8 pounds less next year. I believe that this kind of thinking can be very supportive for our holiday eating. Each little morsel contributes. Some morsels are more worth it, than others. Only you can decide which items are worth the extra calories.

By the way, making tzatziki (click for pronunciation) is easy. If you watch a YouTube video, you can see some ways to make it easier with a food processor. Note: if you like it thicker, strain it. If you want less salt, reduce what you add a bit – the lemon juice and/or vinegar in your recipe will help cover the lower salt. The Spark People offer a recipe with non-fat Greek yogurt or you may want a recipe with a little sour cream. Any way you make tzatziki, it’s loaded with grated or chopped cucumber; which is, of course, way lower than even Greek yogurt. Cucumber has less than 16 calories for 4 ounces. I found tzatziki an enjoyable way to become partially satisfied on lower calorie foods, leaving less desire and space for the tempting foods I didn’t need.

Of course, dip is just one of the many items offered during the holiday season. You may be able to reduce the level of remorse you feel, by making some substitutions. And when you confront one of the traditional full-fat, full-calorie versions, maybe you’ll decide to enjoy every bite you put on your plate the first time around and will skip seconds. Or reduce that serving size when you do put it on your plate. Don’t forget every little morsel counts. Whatever your decisions are, I’m wishing you a beautiful holiday season filled with mostly positive emotions.