Start Now to Eat Healthier over the Holidays
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Start Now to Eat Healthier over the Holidays

Sally Wadyka — Consumer Reports
Nov 21, 2017

There's a lot of pressure at the holidays to eat everything. But don't feel you have to load up on your sister's special casserole unless you love it. Sample a small amount and be sure to rave about it. If you're going to indulge, do so with the foods you wait for all year. 

(Washington, DC) — [Consumer Reports] Given that food and drink go hand in hand with celebrations, it's difficult to know how to eat healthier during the holidays. But if you're hosting a party or preparing meals, one of your jobs is to make sure your guests don't leave suffering from unwanted aftereffects, such as feeling stuffed on rich goodies—or worse, feeling sick. (Photo Credit: Flickr)

The secret to better morning-after's is to make smart choices when planning and prepping the food you serve. Here, experts show you how to eat healthier over the holidays.

Make the Right Grocery Buys

Serving a delicious, healthy holiday meal begins at the grocery store, but the choices can be confusing. The trick is to know which food labels are meaningful.

Look for meat labels that matter. Whether your menu calls for turkey, beef, or pork, consider buying meat that's organic or raised without antibiotics. Experts (including 90 percent of the doctors surveyed in a Consumer Reports poll) are concerned about using antibiotics for disease prevention or growth promotion in animals because it contributes to antibiotic resistance. (The World Health Organization recently said farmers should end the practice.) Organic meat also means using only organic feed and no growth hormones.

Pick the best produce. Organic? Conventional? Local? The right choices will be based on availability and your personal preferences, concerns for the environment, and budget.

Local produce can be healthier; nutrients may degrade if the trip to the store takes too long. Even in colder parts of the country, locally grown apples, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are available during the holiday season. Organic produce is grown without the use of most pesticides or chemical fertilizers and isn't genetically engineered.

Washing conventional fruits and vegetables in running water and rubbing them vigorously will reduce pesticide residue (you don't need special washes, though baking soda may help), as will peeling. Still, some pesticides can remain on surfaces and some are systemic—they get into the produce flesh and can't be washed away.

Spice it up right. "Sodium is used as a preservative in many canned and packaged foods," says Lauri Wright, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Florida. "So they have much more than if it was added just for taste." (Photo Credit: Flickr)

Look for low-sodium products; they contain 140 mg or less per serving. To avoid added sugars, use canned fruit packed in its own juice (no sugar added) and consider making cranberry sauce by boiling fresh or frozen berries with just enough orange juice and sugar to take the acidic edge off.

Prepare It All Safely

In the frenzy of meal prep, we often neglect the basic rules of kitchen safety. "This is especially true during the holidays, when you have several people in the kitchen," says Shelley Feist, executive director at the Partnership for Food Safety Education. Consider these reminders:

Plan ahead. "I always recommend cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer before you shop, because you're going to need all that room," says Marianne H. Gravely, M.S., a food-safety specialist with the Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and fridge.

Thaw in the fridge. "Food-poisoning bacteria grows rapidly at room temperature, and in 2 hours they can reach dangerous levels and develop toxins that can't be killed with cooking," Gravely warns. It takes one day of thawing for every 5 pounds of turkey. Keep it in a shallow roasting pan with sides high enough to contain any juices that might leak out.

Don't rinse the bird. A Drexel University study found that rinsing poultry caused bacteria from the surface to splatter all over.

Clean carefully. Cross-contamination goes beyond rookie mistakes such as using the same plate for raw and cooked meat and forgetting to wash your hands before you start food prep. For example, a Kansas State University study found that kitchen towels were the most contaminated with bacteria of all the surfaces tested. That's because people often use them to wipe the counter or dry their hands after rinsing them (as opposed to using soap and water). And using your cell phone or tablet can be an unexpected source of contamination. "Every time you touch something during food prep is an opportunity to introduce contaminants into your food," Feist says. "So if you take a call, wash your hands again after you set the phone down."

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