In Jamaica, Christmas is a time when many people throw caution to the wind and indulge in food and drinks and various social activities. We don't usually think about our health at this time because 'Christmas comes only once per year'. But does this mean that we cannot make healthy food choices during the Yuletide season?
Remove chicken skin
Christmas is a coming and the chickens, goats, cows, pigs are getting fat for us to feast on, but do we have to gain weight, have uncontrolled blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood cholesterol and pain in ankle, fingers and toes from gouty arthritis after indulging in the feast?
How can we make our holiday meals healthier? Remove the skin and visible fat from chicken, beef, pork, ham, goat and turkey. Bake, roast, steam, stew with no fat instead of frying. Use low-fat or skimmed milk when making the good ol' 'chocolate tea'. Skim the fat and oil from the top of soups and stews before serving. Use less butter, margarine or oil when preparing Christmas cake, pudding or other desserts. Instead, use more blended or pureed fruits as a substitute for fat.
For gravies, sauces and salad dressings, use little or no fat in recipe. Remember that consuming more fat than the body needs or uses is stored as fat and results in unnecessary weight gain, especially if physical activity is not a part of daily routine. This weight gain may result in an increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Limit sugar, honey
Sugar, honey, molasses and other sweeteners should be limited or if possible, avoided. This can be achieved by adding more pureed or blended fruits to cake, pudding and other dessert recipes and using less sugar or sweetener, if any at all. Sorrel, the Christmas drink, can be made healthier by using less water, adding less sugar and little or no alcohol. Adding more cloves, pimento, cinnamon sticks and ginger will enhance the flavour of this drink.
Make sorrel healthier
How about using the entire sorrel, including seeds, instead of only the calyx, or outer peels?
Anticancer properties are thought to be in the seeds. Alcohol and sugar add calories, and excess consumption may cause weight gain and increase the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. It would be wise to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages and choose fresh, unsweetened fruit juices, lightly sweetened drinks, non-alcoholic wines, tonic and sparkling flavoured water.
Skip smoked, pickled foods
Smoked meats, salted or pickled fish, ham, sausages, processed and canned foods are high in salt and sodium. Eating these foods will increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of developing heart disease and chronic kidney failure. Processed and salted meats should be cut into thinner slices and smaller portions consumed. Choose fresh, unprocessed cuts of meat, fish, pork, chicken and vegetables because they have less salt and sodium. Use natural seasonings such as onion, scallion, garlic, thyme, pimento, pepper, lime/ lemon, browning and fresh vegetables instead of salt, powdered seasonings, soy sauce and ketchup. As black people, we are more likely to develop high blood pressure than our white, Chinese and Indian counterparts.
Let's not forget the snacks that usually fill up the cupboard. Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, unsalted crackers, baked chips, low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese instead of sweet biscuits, buns, candies, fried chips, sodas and drinks. Remember, snacks are not meals but fillers offered in-between meals and should provide energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Without good health, there won't be hope of acquiring great wealth, so let's end 2012 by continuing to make healthy food choices even in the Yuletide season.
Enjoy healthy eating this Christmas and may you have a fat-free New Year!
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.