Health Take-Away: Celebrate the holiday, thankfully and healthfully

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Thanksgiving for many American families is the start of a 40-day marathon of food-focused gatherings that please the palate, but widen the waistline and are hard on our health. We surround ourselves with culinary temptations, as if that's the only way to express gratitude and celebrate the company of our loved ones. It doesn't have to be. Whether you're the host or a guest, there are plenty of ways to enjoy healthy, delicious fare and focus on what's most important — one another.

If you're hosting a gathering, here are some suggestions that are good for you and your guests:

- Minimize or even skip the appetizers. For starters, look at the bigger picture of the meal you're about to serve and ask whether you really need to load everyone up beforehand. If you can't bring yourself to skip them altogether, choose one or two tasty, healthy appetizers from the recipe resources below.

- "Healthy up" the traditional holiday meal. There's a bounty of perfectly scrumptious and healthy recipes available online today to keep the meal "traditional," while serving side dishes that satisfy the growing appetite for whole, unprocessed, organic foods, including vegetables and other good-for-everyone options. Two great, free resources are: www.hammernutrition.com/resources/hammer-nutrition-cookbook and www.cleaneatingmag.com/

- Serve buffet-style, not family-style. Studies have shown people are less likely to overeat if the meal is served buffet-style. Guests take what they need and most likely won't make a second run. If the meal is served family-style, the ease of reaching for or asking someone to pass the platter makes it harder to resist the impulse to overeat.

- Don't be a food pusher. Certainly welcome your guests to enjoy themselves, but don't "guilt them" into getting a second helping or even finishing what's on their plates. Definitely don't circle the table with a platter, offering another mound of stuffing or slice of pie.

- Consider one incredibly delicious dessert and skipping the others. We're so accustomed to having the ultimate selection of pies and pastries at these gatherings. Even guests already stuffed by their meal feel obligated to sample. Many would welcome that one great-tasting, healthy dessert that's not going to cause eater's remorse.

If you're attending a gathering, here are a few secrets for self-controlling your intake:

- Wear slightly tight pants. Your belt line will tell you sooner than your brain that you've had enough to eat.

- Quell your appetite before you go. Before you leave home, eat a handful of nuts or half an avocado, sources of healthy fat that efficiently satiate you. Choosing raw, crunchy vegetables from the appetizer tray will have the same effect.

- Choose smaller plates and utensils. For many of us, the bigger the plate, the more we will eat, whether we need it or not. If the host has already set out smaller plates and utensils for desserts (if not, don't be shy to ask), use those to scale down your servings.

- Fill at least half your plate with vegetables. Go for the greens and seasonal root vegetables. You will still be able to enjoy modest portions of meat and other savory side dishes, but know you've created a healthy balance.

- Eat with your non-dominant hand. If you're a righty, feed yourself with the left; if you're a lefty, go righty. It slows your consumption and gives your brain time to tell yourstomach you're full.

- Pretend you're not done, even if you are. If a host keeps insisting you have another helping, just say, "I'm still working on this," and they'll leave you be. Don't be "guilted" into eating or drinking more than you should.

- Drink a large glass of water before each serving of alcohol. It quenches your thirst and helps you mindfully limit how much you're drinking.

Jennifer Ward, R.D., is a Wellness Dietitian with Berkshire Health Systems


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