So I came home for Christmas a bit early this year. Despite the heart-pounding excitement one normally experiences while practicing public accounting, I had a lot of vacation time built up, and somehow managed to drag myself away from the siren’s call of the stacks of paperwork adorning my desk.
And have now been at my parent’s house for nearly a week, ingesting the myriad unhealthy things one does during the holidays. Which has always seemed a bit peculiar, since “holidays” is apparently derived from the phrase “holy days”. And we are supposed to treat our bodies as temples, but for some reason spend these “holy days” desecrating them repeatedly. And I will continue doing so for at least a week after Christmas as I feast on the leftovers.
Now, I’ve written before how obsessing over possible weight gain between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is actually a waste of time. But it’s probably a good idea to consider the things we eat during these times, if only to remind ourselves what we should avoid for the rest of the year.
Because I spend my “holy days” in the holy lands of the American South, some of the dishes I’ll be examining may not be common in the dark, frozen places north of Virginia. Or west of the big river splitting the country. Or in assorted foreign places. But what we eat isn’t that unusual. I’m sure anyone reading this would be able to glean a few helpful bits of advice.
The center of attention in any American holiday spread is the turkey. Especially if you try to fry one without thawing it. Six ounces of this staple of the American holiday diet has only about 300 calories, which is on the light side for a meat serving. It also provides a fair amount of the Recommended Daily Allowances in various micronutrients, providing 83% of the niacin requirement, 40% of the vitamin B6 and phosphorus, 20% of the vitamin B5 and iron, 15% of the vitamin B12 and zinc, 10% of the magnesium, and 67% of the selenium.
But for those who don’t like turkey (I.E. hate America), there’s always ham. Six ounces of this will provide 103% of the thiamine RDA, 40% of the riboflavin and B6 and zinc, 65% of the niacin, 50% of the B12, 25% of the B5, copper and iron, 10% of the magnesium, 70% of the phosphorus, 20% of the potassium, and 60% of the selenium. It’s a bit heavy on sodium, though, so it might be a good idea to sweat some of that out with a little exercise. Also, adding the honey glaze adds about 100 calories and not much else.
Then there is my mother’s traditional Christmas eve meal, beef tenderloin. Six ounces has 350 calories, 10% of the Thiamine, 20% of the Riboflavin, 60% of the Niacin, 20% of the B5, 50% of the B6 and of the iron, all of the B12 and selenium, 80% of the zinc. Any Ketogenic dieter would probably be ecstatic at the sight of this, but there’s a problem.
She served it with potatoes. Potatoes which slowly soak up the delectable juices from the beef in the oven. Which is great for normal people, but a thing of nightmares for the low-carb diet aficionados.
But potatoes are fine. Seriously. They have 160 cals in a medium sized (2-3 inch diameter) potato, 10-15% of most B vitamins (except B12) 40% of the B6, 15-25% of the copper, Iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium. So, sorry if mom ruined the Keto diet with her succulent potatoes. And the vegans are probably upset with the whole dead cow part. She can’t please everyone. Newsflash: She doesn’t care.
We’d frequently add a few tablespoons of gravy made from these meats to the various sides too, like mashed potatoes. Meat gravy adds roughly the same nutrients from the meats themselves (but proportionately less) and about 50-100 calories. So gravy isn’t necessarily bad. But don’t get carried away with it. As a rule, you should not drown your food.
One meat shows up constantly on southern tables, not just at the holidays. I’m talking about fried chicken. Nutritionally, it’s not all that different from the various other meats. The problem is, one has to add about 100-150 calories for the “fried part”. I’ve noted before that fried food is generally to be avoided.
Then there’s the turkey dressing. Which some people call stuffing (normally the miscreants who live north of the Mason-Dixon line), even though there’s really no difference. If you have time to kill, you can entertain yourself by reading lengthy screeds by food nerds insisting that there is all the difference in the world. But, there isn’t. Anyway, a half cup of this has 200-250 calories 10-15% of the RDA of thiamine, niacin, folate, vitamin K, Iron, selenium, and a smattering of other nutrients.
Then there’s the side dish loved by many and treated as an object of holiness and light by the Southern Baptists of the world. And by that I mean green bean casserole. Which is traditionally made from green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and fried onions, then baked in an oven. A half cup of this has… a little bit of everything, nutrition wise. And only 90 calories. The Baptists made a pretty well balanced side dish.
Other sides we stuff into our holes include the yeast roll, which has 75-150 calories, and cornbread, which has 100-200 calories. Both have most nutrients in 5-10% range, which is fairly well rounded. It turns out, breads aren’t that bad for you, despite what angry online carnivores may say.
Then there are the things my dear cousin Lei Ann brought every year: Deviled eggs. Boiled egg whites with the yolk pulled out, mixed with mustard and other greatness, and put back in. One half egg has 10% of the daily B2 and B12 requirements, 10% of the selenium, a handful of other things. And 50 calories, which isn’t bad at all.
We also have a thing that seems like dessert, but isn’t quite: Sweet potato casserole. A half cup of this has 10-30% of the various B vitamins, all of the vitamin A requirement, and most minerals in the 10-20% range. For only 300 calories. As long as you don’t get carried away by adding sugar, this isn’t bad at all. But if you add marshmallows (too many people do), you add 50-100 calories with no real extra nutrition.
Then there’s that other thing Americans have for every late year holiday: Cranberry sauce. It’s another thing that causes nerds to fight online too. Apparently, there is a lot of contention over whether homemade or canned cranberry sauce is best, with the people who seem most likely to live in their mother’s basement inclined to prefer the canned variety.
These arguments can be more violent than people arguing over the correct pronunciation of “gif”, so I avoid participation. Mostly because both forms appear to have 90 calories for every two ounces and no significant nutrition, providing most nutrients in the 5% or less RDA range. So the joke is on both of these groups hapless foodie warriors.
Let’s not forget the thing that shows in every meal, but can take different forms. The thing that can be mixed into a side dish, covering the main course, or a topping on a salad. The “Where’s Waldo” of foods: Bacon. Two slices (2 ounces, roughly) has a chunk of phosphorus, selenium, the various B vitamins, and adds 75 calories.
And once we survive all of this, we have dessert. Which can include pumpkin pie which has 300 calories per slice, lots of vitamin A, most other vitamins in the 5-10% range, and most minerals in the 10-20% range.
We may also have pecan pie, which has a staggering 525 calories per slice, but actually has a decent chunk of various vitamins and minerals, often in the 40-50% range. This is probably mostly due to the pecans and not the rest of the pie. It might be best to just eat nuts, which everyone should do. Dessert, on the other hand, is normally to be avoided.
After this, we get drunk. Well not around my parents. But I do a fair amount of drinking for the holidays. Which consists mostly of egg nog, which has 150 calories or so in each half cup. It’s got some nutrition too, with various B vitamins, vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus, although in small portions. But I sometimes prefer to forgo the egg nog part, and just drink the bourbon straight. Bourbon alone is awesome, but not healthy. It has 100 calories in a shot and no real nutrition. As I’ve noted before, it’s best to avoid alcohol if you’re losing weight.
So the diet lessons of the holidays are, don’t add stuff on top like marshmellows and glaze, avoid fried stuff, avoid dessert, and avoid alcohol. Eat six ounce portions of meat and plenty of vegetables. These and other tricks are how I lost over 60 pounds over these past two years.
But only a lunatic does this during the holidays. Eat what you like for Christmas. But afterwards, when you go back to behaving, keep these lessons in mind. Unless you want to be so fat everyone asks you to be Santa Claus next year.