HEALTH + FITNESS
This time around, what you can eat. Plus, a fresh, fast-but-effective workout you can take on the road with you.
By Todd Soura
Piggybacking off of last year’s column, where I highlighted the most notorious of the holiday dinner table mainstays, this time around, I’m going to carve a clearer path. Health-conscious as we’ve become, we cling to our traditions come the holiday feasts, and that means a whole lot of butter, a whole lot of sugar and a whole lot of booze. But there is a way to navigate those minefields without sabotaging your diet and fitness. And, really, let’s be clear: One indulgent meal is not going to break you. But the holidays are more of a month-long series of indulgent nights. So, while I’m tailoring this guide to one big meal, it can easily be applied to every other situation you’ll encounter over the next couple of weeks—parties, snacking, parties.
Let’s start where we all naturally begin: with the protein. Turkey isn’t just the smart choice for holiday gorging, it’s the smart choice period. A three-ounce serving of breast meat contains a yuge amount of protein (26 grams) and very little carbs and fat, all in a mere 120 calories.
Beef is almost as high in protein and low in carbs as turkey, but it carries a much higher dose of fat and calories per serving. Ham, you’ll want to avoid as much as you can, but not for the reason you’re likely thinking. Pork is not inherently bad for us. A pork loin, in fact, is high in protein, low in carbs and relatively low in fat. But ham is not pork loin. Nor is it really pork. It’s a highly processed slab of factory-made fillers and chemicals. As a general rule, avoid any kind of boneless meat in an unnatural form.
Salad is a no-brainer. If there’s one on the table, consider yourself fortunate. You’ll want to heap it on your plate, not in that tiny little bowl. Those greens and all those veggies are loaded with fiber, which is going to help you feel fuller faster and longer than three helpings of sausage-spiked stuffing. Just be mindful of any potential landmines buried within that lush foliage—candied nuts, fist-size croutons, marshmallows.
Veggies, likewise, are all too frequently the casualties of some sinister doctoring in the name of bolstering their appeal or remaining true to Aunt Joanne’s tried-and-true (and 40-year-old) recipe. Don’t be scared off by a little seasoning. But if they’re drenched in butter, you’re better off passing. And if they’re embedded in a casserole, definitely pass. The casserole is a staple, but its time has come. Regardless of whatever vegetable is featured in its name, understand that there is no nutritional value whatsoever.
If you’re given the option, reach for the sweet potato or the yam over the Russet potato. Sure, they’re all technically veggies, but they’re not created equally. The sweet potato and yam are packed with nutrients. The Russet, not so much. Mind you, that rule does not hold in the case of candied yams and pretty much every other traditional variation. In fact, unless it’s naked, just let it be. Otherwise, the brown sugar and butter it was slathered in has long since drowned the nutritional value.
It’s impossible to turn around this time of year and not walk into a plate of cookies, or brownies or a rack of cooling pies. You can navigate your day like an Olympic slalom skier only to be handed a plate of homemade truffles on your way out the door. You’re only human; go ahead and enjoy one. I would. I do. But cut yourself off at one. Dump the rest of those truffles off on your family after dinner, or just dump them. The longer they linger, the more the temptation will grow.
The same holds for dessert spreads. Pick one and move on. Whether you load up your plate or hang out within grazing distance of the table, you’re going to continue to munch without thought or reservation—until later on that night. Savor those few bites. You earned them. They bring you no ill will. But the others will haunt you.
When we’re hosting, it’s my chance to flip the script. There’s an entire corner of the Internet filled with healthy dessert recipes. My go-to is apple crisps, one, because they’re delicious, and two, because they’re simple as hell to make.
No one gets through the holiday season unscathed. Not even me. But if that’s your objective through the rest of the year, you’re probably living a very sheltered life. For these next couple of weeks, and the new year beyond that, aim simply to eat clean 80 percent of the time. You’ll feel healthier for it, and those occasional indulgences will taste even better.
The Holiday Express Workout
The holidays mean unyielding schedules and lots of travel. This workout can be done almost anywhere and in 15 minutes. Get your sweat on and then get on with indulging the in-laws.
Perform three rounds of the following circuit. Rest as little as possible.
15 plank jump-ins
15 jumping lunges
15 ground jacks*
(*Position yourself as you would for a pushup, only move your hands and feet together. Simultaneously—and quickly—move your hands and feet to your sides, about a shoulder-width apart. And then snap them back to the starting position. That’s one rep. If you have difficulty with the movement, just move either your hands or your feet.)
Todd Soura is the owner of the Doylestown-based Action Personal Training.