Thursday, December 24, 2020

Plant Based for the Holidays? Yes You Can!!!

Thank you to my dietetic intern Anastasia Palshina, my guest blogger, for incorporating more plant-based foods into the holiday menu.


Winter holidays are here. It means delicious food will be on the tables of many Americans. While the current pandemic may destroy traditional gathering plans, it will unlikely affect the contents of the American holiday table. During the holiday season, there tends to be a spike in overindulgence and poor diet patterns. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 40% more calories are eaten at a holiday buffet by the average person versus dining alone.[1]Overconsumption affects people not only on Christmas or New Year’s Day but during the whole holiday season. Families experience a lot of stress during preparation, and some people experience loneliness[2] as well which contributes to overeating. Loneliness is intensified for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. The minimal consequences of such behavior may be a weight gain due to extra calories being consumed; people also may experience tiredness, mood swings[3], due to the type of unhealthy food they consume. Those who suffer from preexisting conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome can have more severe consequences.

         In holiday stories we often see how people enjoy goose or pork, candy canes, and gingerbread cookies with eggnog. Unfortunately, replicating these habits at home, people don’t think that goose or pork have high-fat content, specifically high in saturated fat. A traditional symbol of Christmas - the candy cane has 22 grams of added sugar and that is just for one candy. The list can go on and on. No wonder that for many people holidays is a true test of will power. Regardless of one's culture, the holiday table can vary significantly but they all have the same problem. The type of food chosen is extremely important during the holiday season. Many traditional dishes contain a lot of sodium, sugar, saturated fat and even trans-fat in numerous holidays bakery goods.[4]Trans fat destroys cell membranes, that is why it was banned by law. In small amounts trans-fat will not harm you. A single cookie or slice of cake is allowable; however, a holiday syndrome of overeating can increase consumption of trans fat. The hidden danger of trans fat can be also due to overconsumption of cooking oil, red meat, dairy products, and butter, whereas trans-fat exists in amounts less than 0.5g per serving and is not labeled. Several servings of such products certainly have the ability to be on the holiday table.1 Nothing but the combination of food high in sodium, saturated fat, and alcohol can spoil holiday days. The condition known as holiday heart syndromesends many people to the hospital every year.2

             To avoid such an unpleasant surprise during the holidays, a plant-based approach can be used. Many studies showed improvement in glycemic control and lipid balance in people who followed a plant-based diet, especially with type 2 diabetes.[5][6][7] Even simply replacing some saturated fat with walnuts that have essential fatty acid and a high concentration of omega -3 (3.4g per 3 oz.)[8]may not only help with bad lipid management but also enhance mood and regulate inflammation.[9] While completely switching to a vegetarian diet is a challenge for many people, the replacement of some food during holidays can bring much more joy than stress and prevent health conditions caused by traditional food consumption. Replace salty and fatty foods like pork or goose with plant-based protein such as beans, legumes, and tempeh. Replace sugary treats with more fruit-based reduced sugar desserts. Overconsumption will not be as detrimental if the holiday table is full of healthy plant-based food.

[1] "Holiday Heart Health Secrets: Here's how to navigate a tempting holiday buffet without overeating and compromising your health." Heart” Advisor, vol. 21, no. 12, Dec. 2018, p. 4+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 13 Nov. 2020.

[2] "Avoid holiday heart and other seasonal threats to your health: alcohol use and overeating can lead to heart palpitations, but holiday heart isn't the only cardiovascular risk this time of year." Heart Advisor, vol. 17, no. 11, Nov. 2014, p. 4. Gale Academic OneFile, . Accessed 13 Nov. 2020.

[3] MD ES. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog. Published March 31, 2020. Accessed November 30, 2020.

[4] Trans fat: Double trouble for your heart. Mayo Clinic. Published February 13, 2020. Accessed November 30, 2020.

[5] Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1588S-1596S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736H

[6] Trepanowski JF, Varady KA. Veganism Is a Viable Alternative to Conventional Diet Therapy for Improving Blood Lipids and Glycemic Control. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55(14):2004-2013. doi:10.1080/10408398.2012.736093

[7] Turner-McGrievy G, Harris M. Key elements of plant-based diets associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2014;14(9):524. doi: 10.1007/s11892-014-0524-y. PMID: 25084991.

[8] Gropper, S., Smith J.L., Carr T.P. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Seventh edition, Student edition. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2018; 137.

[9] Kiecolt-Glaser JK;Belury MA;Andridge R;Malarkey WB;Glaser R; Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, behavior, and immunity. Accessed November 30, 2020.