I know you’ve all seen “healthy holiday tips” from drinking water and extra hours on the treadmill (yes!). But many of us turn our eyes toward the serving spoon and away from the scale this time of year.
A common rationale: why focus on healthy habits when you can indulge in holiday feasts and just make up for it in January?
It doesn’t need to be an “all or nothing” approach, and you can still enjoy the holiday season without throwing healthy habits by the wayside.
There’s another compelling reason not to turn a blind eye to holiday bingeing and its accompanying belly bulge: whittling your waistline and cutting back on a common food additive may even save your kidneys, according to research published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.
The food additive — phosphorus — may not yet be on your radar, but it should be because it’s already on your plate. It is naturally abundant in animal, dairy, and vegetable protein, and any food that has undergone processing may contain high levels. That’s because in the U.S. phosphorus is added to many foods to help enhance their flavor and shelf life. It doesn’t have a taste or smell, so it’s important to know where to look for it. Phosphorus additives are indicated by the “PHOS” root word on nutrition labels.
Due to their chemical composition, phosphorus additives in processed foods are more readily absorbed by the body. Good news if your diet is more veggie-centric: plant-based forms of phosphorus are the least readily absorbed by the body because they are harder for humans to break down.
A good rule of thumb is that if the food comes in a package, it’s likely to be high in phosphorus, so (no surprise here) limit the processed foods in your diet. With a few simple swaps, your holiday season will be tasty, filling and low in phosphorus. As with everything, moderation is key to healthy living.
It’s good to fill up on lean protein, but it’s important to know what else you may be eating along with it.
First, avoid buying pre-brined birds. Many people think that brining enhances the flavor and juiciness of the meat, and it can. But it’s important to know that often a sodium-phosphate solution is injected into the turkey (or other meat) to achieve that flavor.
As you may recall from my Thanksgiving article, it’s always best to buy heritage breeds which are most natural and lower in phosphates (if any; ask your butcher.) Also, beware of the deli meats found on holiday buffets. These, too, are typically injected with a sodium-phosphate solution.
Avoid sodas. They are high in phosphorus.
Eat your veggies. Of course I would say that. But not only are vegetables good for you, they help you feel satiated and less likely to avoid more of the bad stuff.
Snack selectively. Tortilla (corn) chips and cheese puffs are typically high in phosphorus. When it comes to other forms of easy-to-eat “finger foods,” remember that just because an appetizer is bite-sized, if you eat a lot of them, it is no longer a snack-sized treat.
Forgo the frozen section. With some exceptions, frozen foods tend to be high in phosphorus, including chicken nuggets, baked goods and even packaged rice and pasta meals. Whenever possible, make these items from scratch. We all need to take short cuts once in a while, but now that you know phosphorus additives may be damaging your kidneys, do your best to avoid the culprits.
Goat Cheese Cucumber Rounds with Cumin and Mint
This is one of my most popular appetizers in my “Healthy Holiday” classes. Festive and easy.
1 log fresh goat cheese (about 11 oz.)
2 Tbsp. cumin seeds, lightly toasted
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
Fresh black pepper
1 English cucumber
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
In small bowl, mix all ingredients through pepper. This part can be done ahead and refrigerated up to three hours.
Slice cucumber in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cut it into 1/4-inch rounds and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over top and garnish with extra mint.