As the holiday season ramps up, we are bound to come across the inevitable holiday party appetizers. As much as we love them, appetizers can be some of the biggest saboteurs when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. First off, they are small and seem “harmless,” causing us to not pay great attention to what and how much we eat. Second, many of them are unbalanced, containing mostly refined carbohydrates and fats, and lastly, we tend to fill ourselves up on them, leaving little room for the more healthy part of the party…the meal.
Saying no to all appetizers isn’t the answer, but being aware and smart about the choices you make when the plate of Swedish meatballs walk by is. These guidelines are good whether you, yourself are entertaining or if you are going to someone else’s party.
THOSE TO FORGET:
- Frozen: Appetizers made from scratch tend to be better options than frozen or packaged. If it looks like an appetizer was whipped up in a microwave or oven, or was bought at BJs or Costco, stay clear. Often, they are highly processed, contain lots of saturated fats and are filled with preservatives. Examples to Avoid: Meatballs, mini-quiches, mini-pizzas, mini ANYTHING, dumplings, egg-rolls, spanakopita, pigs in a blanket.
- Pass on the Puff: As delicious as puff pastry is, it is one of the largest offenders of unhealthy appetizers. Most puff pastry or filo dough based appetizers are riddled with butter and refined flours. Examples to Avoid: Spanakopita, cheesepuffs, anything wrapped in puff pastry, mini-crescents, pigs in a blanket.
- Fried: Whether homemade or not, fried foods are full of excess calories, saturated fat and potentially even trans fat. Further, they can play with your digestive tract and cause you to feel gassy and uncomfortable. Examples to Avoid: Chicken fingers, fried Buffalo wings, egg rolls, fried shrimp.
- Refined Carbohydrates: Breads and crackers tend to be made with refined flours, leaving very little nutrition in them. Further, they often require high-fat accompaniments, such as cheese or spreads. If you can find a whole-grain cracker or slice of bread, opt for those instead.
THOSE TO ENJOY:
- Plant Based: Those appetizers that are predominantly plant based (veggies or fruit) provide fiber and vitamins and minerals. Examples to Enjoy: Crudites, fruit, veggies and dip, veggies or fruit wrapped in ham, stuffed mushrooms.
- Dips: Avoid those that are mayo based or creamy in general. Further, when enjoying dips, choose veggies to dip rather than the conventional chip, cracker or piece of bread. The veggies will provide you a lot more nutritional value. Examples to Enjoy: Hummus (contains protein and fiber), salsa (naturally low in fat) and bean dips or spreads (also high in fiber and protein).
- Lean Protein: Those appetizers that contain lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans, lean meat and lean pork) will help to satiate your appetite and will balance out the heavier carbohydrate based appetizers. Examples to Enjoy: Chicken skewers, shrimp cocktail, tenderloin on pumpernickel bread, salmon and dill on whole wheat crackers.
- Olives: These are filled with monounsaturated fats…and are generally low in calories olive for olive.
THOSE TO MODERATE:
- Nuts: Nuts are healthy and tasty…filled with lots of healthy fats, fiber and protein. Eat these in moderation, however, so as to not overdo your fat intake. A good amount is about a quarter cup of nuts (an egg or golf ball’s worth).
- Cheese: Cheese is wonderfully delicious and full of protein, but it is still high in saturated fat. Try to limit yourself to one ounce (4 dice or a thumb’s worth).
As always, don’t deprive yourself this holiday season. Just be smart about your choices!