Thursday, October 13, 2011

Low Carb Holiday Main Dishes

Luckily, most main dishes we think about over the holidays are naturally low-carb because they are usually protein-based. Choices such as turkey, duck, goose, and ham are traditional stars of the holiday table, but are they all equally nutritious and diet friendly? Let's take a look at some of the most popular and see how they stack up against each other.

Turkey Talk

Many families pride themselves in their great big, juicy, golden brown turkey coming out of the oven. And why not? This glorious bird is a holiday classic that is not only beautiful when cooked well, but is just as tasty. But, how does turkey stack up in the healthier food department?

Turkey is essentially considered a low-to-no carb food. Since meat is mostly protein, you can enjoy as much turkey as you wish if you are on a low-carb diet. However, a few things to consider would be the dressing you may have stuffed the bird with. If you consider roasting your bread-filled bird a tradition, just be sure to avoid the dressing when dishing up your plate.

Other nutritional considerations is the fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium. One trick to cut down on the fat, which often contains those unhealthy elements, is to be sure the bird is on a rack in the roasting pan so the fat cooks off and runs through, and the bird isn't sitting in the fat juices.

Choosing which portion to eat is also important to eating healthier. The white meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than dark meat. But, dark meat has more iron. So, there are always trade offs to think about. Of course, you want to skip most if not all of the skin to avoid the vast majority of the fat and salt.

If you are faced with a holiday table filled with carb-rich, fat-rich foods, your choices may be limited, but you can feel confident helping yourself to multiple servings of turkey. If you stick to mostly white meat, with only a nibble or two of dark meat and a tiny bit of crispy skin, you can load up without worrying about your healthy diet.

Duck v. Goose

Two popular birds to grace the holiday table are duck and goose. Either one is a glorious addition to a beautiful table. They both are aromatic, the skin crisps and browns beautifully, and they are often a traditional favorite simply because we just don't tend to cook them often.

But, when it comes to eating healthier, which would you choose? The nutritional data may surprise you. We believe duck to be a very fatty bird, and it is, of course. However, between the two, goose is actually much higher in calories and almost five times more calories come from the fat in a goose than the fat in a duck. This is without the skin.

Even with the goose having a much higher calorie count from fat, the cholesterol count is quite a bit lower for a goose than a duck. This just illustrates how important it is to check the nutrition labels before you dig in, especially if you are on a strict diet.

The good news is both duck and goose are carb-free, so if you are on a low-glycemic diet, this may be one dish you can enjoy without difficulty during the holidays. Again, the crispy skin may be tempting, but just a nibble will have to do if you want to stay within your dietary restrictions concerning fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Ham It Up

It's hard to look at a glazed ham and see it as nutritious and diet-friendly. Of course, a basic baked ham fits into a low-carb diet, but what about after it's fancied up for the holiday table?

Comparing a basic baked ham with a honey baked ham, you'll quickly see where the nutrition suffers in the honey baked variety. The sodium levels jump dramatically as well as the carb levels, thanks to the added sugar or honey. The calories and fat seem to be on similar levels, which would be considered quite high for most people counting calories. However, that is assuming you eat an equal part lean and fatty ham, so you could help yourself to a leaner portion and save a few calories.

With this holiday main, it could really depend a lot on the cut and the recipe. If you choose a lean ham, then bake it with a savory glaze, such as a mustard glaze instead of a sweet glaze, you can save on carbs, calorie, and fat. Bake it on a rack to let the fats drip off and you'll save even more on the fat content. Put the salt on the table instead of on the ham and you'll reduce your sodium, as well.

Whatever your traditional holiday meal has for its star, you can always make it healthier. Choose your main, then tweak your recipe and cooking method to create a main dish that is not only beautiful and tasty, but healthier, too.

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