Friday, December 9, 2011

Health Care and Holiday Foods

During the Holiday Season--Thanksgiving through New Year's Day--there seems to be an abnormal overabundance of delicious foods available to consumers, more so than any other time of the year. With this ode to food and drink, people like to over indulge, using the excuses that it's the Holidays, "everyone is doing it", there are so many parties to attend, and they can lose it after January 1. And foodies go nuts during November and December with all the tremendous options available at specialty stores, online food merchants, department and grocery store locations, warehouse clubs, and more. So much food, and so little time!

According to WebMD, wherever you come from or wherever you're going home to this season, here's how to serve up fare that is both festive and light. Whether your table offerings lean toward Norman Rockwell-worthy all-American, Latino, Jewish, Italian, or German traditions, the time-honored dishes you love can be made with less fat and fewer calories -- without sacrificing taste. Inspired by the foods ladled up by the Pilgrims, the traditional American meal has come to mean eggnog, hot apple cider, and gingerbread cookies on Dec. 24. Christmas Day is usually spent with relatives over a big meal centered around an oven-roasted turkey, honey-baked ham, or other impressive cut of meat -- accompanied by all the fixins. Here are some options to eat more healthy fare:

Traditional treat: What's a holiday office cocktail party without savory finger foods, creamy dips, and fried canapés?

Leaner eat: Bypass the chips and other fried pound-packers and help yourself to a small handful of nuts, reduced-fat cheese and fresh fruit, or chilled shrimp, says Arthur Agatston, MD, author of The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook: Healthy Recipes for Entertaining Family and Friends. Or serve a hummus dip with a holiday-themed veggie platter: red or green pepper, zucchini, and jicama strips.

Traditional treat: Dark turkey meat covered in gravy -- because nobody, but nobody, wants to eat the breast meat (not till the next day, that is, when everyone wants white-meat turkey sandwiches, slathered with mayo).

Leaner eat: Choose lower-fat white meat without the skin and enjoy it with just a drizzle of gravy made with defatted pan juices, dry white wine, and low-sodium chicken broth, Agatston tells WebMD.

Traditional treat: A "must" at most Americans' holiday table is a big mound of mashed potatoes drowning in butter and salt.

Leaner eat: Enjoy vitamin-rich mashed sweet potatoes or baked sweet potato rounds or fries. Spritz the strips with cooking spray, add a dash of cinnamon, and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.

Traditional treat: Corn bread stuffing cooked inside a turkey is a mainstay of the meal for many and usually loaded with a variety of meats, nuts, and veggies, with plenty of butter, of course.

Leaner eat: Try wild rice as stuffing instead, and bake it separately in a covered casserole. Cooked inside the turkey, the stuffing absorbs too much fat from the meat.

Traditional treat: Sweet, rich, oh-so-fattening pecan pie is a holiday highlight. While the antioxidant-packed nuts are good for you, in moderation, the corn syrup, butter, and sugar can pad your hips with up to 800 calories per slice.

Leaner eat: Opt for a small slice of pie minus the crust, and make it pumpkin, which is lower in fat and calories and also provides a good dose of beta-carotene. Or try a couple of strawberries dipped in  dark chocolate.

According to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill. Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed. The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:

--Older adults.
--Infants and young children.
--Pregnant women.
--People with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system.
--People who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis.

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants in our food supply is a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration. But consumers have a role to play, too, especially when it comes to safe food-handling practices in the home. The good news is that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness.

1. Clean: The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. For children, this means the time it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice. Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.

2. Separate: Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination). Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals. Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables). Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products. Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.

3. Cook: Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF. Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites. Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.

4. Chill: Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Plus, refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie! Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer. Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator. Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out. Leftovers should be used within three to four days.

5. Use care with stuffing: Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven. Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using. The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish.

With all the fun and food you have available during the Holidays, it pays to be very careful when eating. If you overindulge, you definitely will feel the after effects. If you aren't careful in food preparation, you and your family and guests may suffer later. Regardless of the edible options you have at this time of year, make sure you make wise choices when it comes to eating and drinking. Too much fun can be too much. After the first of the year, make up for your lack of resistance now. At least pace yourself til the end of the year, then as you make your New Year's resolutions--especially about losing weight--keep in mind that consuming lots of great food means lots of exercise to shed the pounds. Enjoy the Season!
 
Until next time.

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