If you watch your weight, and your food choice includes a salad, there is a good chance you will select the bowl of greens and veggies. Unfortunately, sometimes healthy food can be a diet sabotage if you are not careful. Top that salad with a few dollops of high calorie dressing, a sprinkle of croutons, and a touch of shredded cheese and you have tipped the scale from healthy to high fat. And you probably do not even realize it. This can happen with other types of food choices too, where you have to decide between two similar foods. Which one is really the healthiest? And at no time is this test more in play than Thanksgiving.
This or That?
Making a decision, conscious or unconscious, drains your will power. So we asked two nutrition experts—Sarah B. Krieger MPH, RD, LD/N, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD Media Nutrition Expert, Dietitian and Host— to weigh in on what to eat and what to pass on when facing these typical Thanksgiving options.
1. Ham vs. Turkey
While 4 oz. of turkey has just 190 calories and 6 g of fat without the skin, the same ham portion size has a whooping 345 calories and 21 g of fat. Likewise, turkey will nourish your muscles and provide you with more energy due to its B vitamins, potassium, folic acid, zinc, protein and iron.
2. Mashed Potatoes vs. Candied Yams
The yams may look like a straight winner due to its fiber content, which will keep hunger at bay. However, according to Krieger, candid yams can be loaded with butter and sugar/marshmallows while the “mashed potatoes are the easiest to modify to be more nutritious, simply by replacing a stick of butter with nonfat sour cream, a few tablespoons butter and nonfat milk, and keeping the peels on the potatoes before mashing-added garlic is a nutritious bonus.”
But for DeFazio, the yam's nutritional content outperforms the potato. Yams have more fiber, as well as vitamins C and A.
This may be a plus when the hectic holiday season spikes the stress hormone and weaken your immune system, in which vitamin C is much on demand. Vitamin A keeps the skin glowing and supple during the dry winter.
3. Eggnog vs. Spiked Apple Cider
Winner: Apple Cider
If you think eggnog is a super-fat sugar bombshell, you are right. This beverage can be a total diet disaster with more than 450 calories. Its contender may have just 140 calories and zero fat (skip the alcohol, though).
Apples also are loaded with quercitin flavonoids, which keep the blood vessels healthy and reduce inflammation through the body. This is particularly important when other choices on the table may stress the vessels with excess saturated fat and sugar.
“To get the most from this winter staple, make sure to get real apple cider, which is cloudy because it’s not filtered like apple juice,” says Charles Stuart Platkin, JD, MPH, author of The Diet Detective. “For an added boost, sprinkle cinnamon on top or add a cinnamon stick —studies show that this spice can lower bad cholesterol and improve glucose levels.”
4. Sugar Cookies vs. Gingerbread Cookies
Winner: Gingerbread Cookies
This is a close “unhealthy draw” in the sense that both can provide nothing but sugar and fat. Nevertheless, both experts agree gingerbread can have less fat and sugar than the obvious sugar cookies.
“The gingerbread has a slight edge with the spices, which can be added heavily —more than the recipe calls for— if you prefer an extra boost of flavor. Regardless, sticking with 1-2 small cookies is best for either,” says Krieger.
5. Cheese Balls vs. Mixed Nuts
Winner: Mixed Nuts
Although calorie-wise nuts can be on the high range, they also provide healthy fats, vitamin E, fiber, and less sodium than the cheese balls —which usually goes with salty crackers and adds more calories and sodium, says Krieger.
Bonus: Studies show regular nuts eaters maintain better weight. However, keep an eye on the portion size; just ¼ cup can easily have more than 100 calories.
6. Apple Pie vs. Pecan Pie
Winner: Apple Pie
Desserts are all about indulging and it is fine to treat occasionally. But enjoy a slice of apple, which usually has less sugar and fat, and thus fewer calories than pecan pie.
“This is close as the crust is the same for each pie —both are made with white flour and shortening/butter,” says Krieger. “Yet, the apple pie filing has a slight edge due to being a fruit serving with less sugar than the syrupy coating on the pecan topping.” Of course, portions are key in desserts: aim for 1/10 of a 9-inch pie.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.