Lighten-Up the Holidays!

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Lighten-Up the Holidays!.jpg

Halloween is over and the unofficial start of the holiday weight-gain season has arrived!Although Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, “trick or treat” candy traditionally weakens willpower and begins an out-of-control holiday tailspin!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing the Phytofit newsletters on how to avoid gaining unwanted pounds. From lightening up those traditional family recipes, to overcoming social pressures, holiday stressors, and getting back on track (in case you stumbled). I hope to keep you motivated to find optimal weight management in a plant-centered lifestyle. Of course, I will be sharing some wonderful recipes that you may enjoy without guilt or fear of gaining weight. How do we lighten-up the traditional holiday meals? Let’s start by explaining nutrient density and calorie density.

There are six essential nutrients our bodies require. Three nutrients, water, vitamins and minerals, have zero calories and don’t directly provide energy. However, these non-caloric nutrients play vital roles in the energy-producing reactions in our bodies.  For example, you may have heard that vitamin A (beta carotene) is great for our skin, but did you know that vitamin C helps prevent sun damage to our skin? Beta carotene and vitamins C and E are also classified as antioxidants because they protect our cells from free radical damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer and other diseases.  There are over 15,000 different phytonutrients (phyto is Greek for plant) such as lycopene and folate that also protect and build our cells. Fruits and vegetables have a considerable number of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, so they are classified as nutrient dense.

The three caloric nutrients include protein, carbohydrates and fat, which all provide the energy we need for daily living. You may know that protein and carbohydrates each provide four calories per gram; fat provides nine calories per gram.  Notice that you can eat twice as many grams of proteins and carbohydrates to get the same number of calories in one gram of fat. Foods with more fat provide more calories with less food. The calories are denser, hence calorie dense, due to the high percentage of fat in the food item. If we are wanting to lose weight, it is best to stay away from the foods higher in fat calories.

Jeff Novick, MS, RD/LDN, a registered dietitian working with Dr. John McDougall, a pioneer in the whole food, plant-based movement,  shows how calorie density and food selections can help you lose weight. He shared this calorie density chart that outlines foods to enjoy, which are green-light foods, and foods to limit or avoid, the red-light foods.

Looking at this chart, note that each category indicates the average number of calories per pound for each specific food group. Non-starchy vegetables only have 100 calories per pound!Just think: a pound of broccoli, carrots, spinach, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, or eggplant (the list is almost endless) for only 100 calories. That’s a lot of food! More importantly, these foods are nutrient dense, which means they are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that are only found in plants. 

For example, vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as broccoli. Beans and green leafy vegetables provide B vitamins for energy and calcium to build stronger bones. Minerals from grains ensure proper heart and muscle functions. Many more vitamins and minerals abound, and you can get all* of them from your green-light foods. 

Fruits are packed with a wide variety of vitamins, nutrients and the natural sugar that we need for energy production. A delicious pound of fruit (almost four apples or three bananas) is only 300 calories. You could also have six kiwis or roughly five cups of green grapes for those 300 calories.

Your starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or white potatoes, contain 400 calories per pound. Think four medium sweet potatoes baked or microwaved. However, that is not fried potatoes. Once we start “processing or preparing” our food in oil or butter such as frying, we begin adding calories and increasing calorie density. Notice oils provide 4,000 calories per pound, increasing calories by 10 times the amount. We are sabotaging our healthy green-light food with the red-light oil.  The unwanted calories from fat limits our ability to lose weight. 

Are you wondering why calories are listed by the pound? It is estimated that a pound of food is enough to fill your stomach and makes you feel full and satisfied.  Studies have shown that people who eat at a buffet consume between 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of food. If we all consume about the same amount of food based on weight, gaining weight or losing weight would depend on calorie density—the number of calories per pound of food you consume. You can see from the calorie density chart that if you are consuming foods from the lower half of the chart, you are eating more calories for the same weight of food. 

Some of you may be thinking you are not pouring oil on your food. However, there are hidden oils/fats in most processed foods including coffee creamer, salad dressing, packaged dried fruit (dried cranberries or cherries), crackers, cakes and cereal. Look at the ingredients on food labels. If it reads, “vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel, hydrogenated soybean)” there is added fat which increases calorie density. When fat has been added to foods during processing, it increases the caloric density of the food.

Selecting a variety of  plant-based foods that weigh about a pound could easily provide about 500 hundred filling calories. But will it satisfy your appetite? Plant-based foods have more water, fiber and bulk making them quite filling. This chart from Forks Over Knives indicates how filling 500 calories of each food source can be in our stomach. Can you see that a nice blend of potatoes, rice, beans, fruits and veggies can really fill your stomach and leave you feeling full for several hours? A meal with oil, cheese and meat will require more calories and more fat while meeting the same satisfaction.

The great news is that when we “eat more plants” such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, we get essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber to name just a few. We are getting the nutrient density without the calorie density. It is a win-win all around for your weight management and health!

*When following a plant-based diet, it is important to take a B12 supplement of at least 2.4mg a day.  

Recipe of the Week

This chopped salad uses the Saladmaster food processor to prep vegetables and fruit. The cones used are indicated by each item. If you do not have the Saladmaster food processor, you can slice and chop using a grator box or another food processor. Contact me to learn more about the Saladmaster food processor.

Phytofit Chopped Rainbow Salad

16-ounce bag of petite English peas defrosted

1/4 green cabbage cone #3

1/4 red cabbage cone #3

2 carrots cone #3

2 apples cone #3

1 pear cone #3

1 zucchini cone #2

1 beet cone #2

1 lemon zest cone #1

1 juice of lemon squeezed

Add English peas to a large mixing bowl. Place mixing bowl under Saladmaster food processor and chop all ingredients using recommended cones. Squeeze lemon juice on salad and toss. 

This whole salad, which is very large, has approximately 850 calories. If you ate half, you would be eating 425 calories with no fat or added sugar.  Half of the recipe provides an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, it’s low in sodium, has no added sugar and is an excellent source of protein.  You would also be getting more than twice your recommended daily intake of vitamins A and C, and a healthy dose of potassium, iron and calcium. Plus, you will be consuming at least half of your recommended fiber. This delicious mixture of complex carbohydrates promises that you would not be hungry for several hours!

Salad Dressing:

Commercial salad dressings are typically laden with sodium and oil. If you are lucky enough to find one salad dressing without added oil, you will notice the sodium content increases substantially. I recommend staying clear of processed salad dressings and opting for balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.

I absolutely love balsamic vinegars and enjoy the wide variety of flavors which are available from The Olive Tap. ( This is not a paid commercial advertisement, just me recommending something I use several times a day. Balsamic vinegar is great alone on salads and greens. You can also find flavored vinegars in your local grocery stores and specialty shops. 

When I want to impress guests, I will use my version of Jane & Ann Esselstyne’s “3-2-1 Dressing,” which includes 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of mustard (your choice) and 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup. Mix those in a small bowl and you have an excellent salad dressing.