Our concierge primary care doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter don’t want to dampen the festive spirit of your first big holiday gathering since the beginning of the pandemic. But taking a few common-sense precautions to ensure a safe and healthy Thanksgiving that can still leave plenty of room for merry-making.
That includes smart plans for healthy eating, along with implementing some common-sense guidelines to keep COVID-19 at bay.
Holiday meals stress the body
According to the New York Times, the average American consumes about 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s like a tsunami of fat coming into the body,” Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Times. But besides the impact to your weight, there are other considerations when eating so much food over such a short length of time.
A large amount of food in a short period can strain the cardiovascular system. An indulgent feast such as we enjoy on Thanksgiving requires the heart to pump more blood to the stomach and intestines to digest the extra food. This can stress the heart as much as extreme physical exertion or a sudden emotional shock.
One study found that eating a heavy meal increases the risk of heart attack by four times within two hours of eating. Another study found a seven-fold risk. Researchers suspect that, in addition to the extra demand on the heart for blood, which raises blood pressure, a high-fat meal might cause the blood to clot more easily.
So what can you do to enjoy your meal while at the same time being a little kinder to your body?
Here are some ideas to help you lighten up while you live it up.
1. Plan ahead
Decide ahead of time which of your favorite foods will be on the menu, and plan to stick to those. You can have mashed potatoes and rolls any time, for example, but the green bean casserole and the turkey dressing are generally specific to Thanksgiving, as are candied yams, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce.
2. Have breakfast
You might think saving up calories for the big meal is the smarter move, but if you hit the buffet table in starvation mode, you’re more likely to overeat. So at least have a bowl of high-fiber cereal or a couple eggs on the morning of the big day.
3. Choose wisely
Try to balance out fat-heavy foods with healthier fare. If you’re going to indulge in the candied yams and stuffing, also eat some celery and carrot sticks or any other vegetable crudités or hors d’oeuvres available. And if the spread includes nuts, be sure to have some. Nuts are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats that will not only fill you up, but can also help steady your blood sugar.
4. Go easy on the drinks
Alcoholic drinks are not only heavy on the calories; they’ll also tend to dehydrate you. So if you’re drinking wine, beer or spirits, alternate with a non-alcoholic drink such as seltzer, club soda, or water as every other time.
5. Walk it off
Mild exercise after such a heavy meal can help your body better metabolizes the extra calories and fat. Bonus: A recent study found that a brisk-30 minute walk increases your immune-fighting cells by 63 percent, helping you ward off viruses like cold, flu, or COVID-19. So think about taking a brisk after-meal walk with family and friends.
Don’t invite the coronavirus
Hopefully, everyone attending the holiday gathering will be fully vaccinated to ensure a safe and healthy Thanksgiving. The last thing you want to do is send everyone home with a nasty case of COVID. And remember, kids under age five and those who are immunocompromised are at risk, so it’s up to others to protect them.
“I believe strongly that, particularly in the vaccinated people, if you’re vaccinated . . . then you can enjoy the holidays,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News This Week recently.
“You can enjoy Halloween, trick-or-treating, and certainly Thanksgiving with your family and Christmas with your family,” he said. If you and your loved ones are fully vaccinated, he added, “There’s no reason at all why you can’t enjoy the holidays in a family way, the way we’ve traditionally done it all along.”
Even so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that, if possible, you avoid crowded indoor spaces.
And if you can find the currently scarce rapid at-home testing kits at the drugstore, you might want to consider using them.
“We will be using rapid tests to double check everybody before we gather together,” Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, told the Associated Press. Volk is planning a holiday meal with six vaccinated family members.
“We’ll be doing it [rapid testing] as they come in the door,” she said.
Rapid tests can provide results in minutes. While not as accurate as the PCR tests that take days for results, they could add an additional layer of safety, and provide more peace of mind as you gather for the Thanksgiving meal. With these tips, we hope you can enjoy a safe and healthy Thanksgiving with your families!