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Dr. Tim Says....

Labor Day: A Time for Food

WatermelonThere is recent research that taking time off from being healthy by overeating and not exercising can make it more challenging for you to lose weight later. A group of researchers in Sweden showed that even a month of unhealthy lifestyle and weight gain made it tougher to lose weight later on. The scientists felt that even short term overeating that led to weight gain resulted in longer term difficulty with weight management.

We have a lot of excuses for overindulgence and I have patients come to see me with explanations that cruises, weddings, birthdays and holidays caused their weight gain. It is easy to understand. Thanksgiving leads to Christmas which leads to New Years followed close on by Valentine's Day and there's birthdays and anniversaries in between. It seems that we mark our year's progress by these special days.

Key Lime PieThat said, I tell my patients that planning is the single most important factor in being healthy. What I want most for them is to think about what they are going to eat and when. Nowhere does this apply more than with holidays and it's those like Labor Day that can be the most challenging because of the abundance of food.

With just a bit of planning you can eat well, have a great Labor Day and be healthy. Here are some Dr. Gourmet holiday guidelines:

1. Eat real food. More and more research is showing us that the more processed a food is, the worse it is for you. Make your hamburgers with fresh ground beef (not pre-made patties), but leave the hot dogs at the grocery store. It's processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and deli meats that cause health issues, not fresh meats. So have a burger, some kabobs made with chunks of sirloin, barbecue chicken, grilled salmon or even a steak. A single hot dog has 185 calories, while 4 ounces of 95% lean ground beef has only about 150 calories and none of the hot dog's chemicals.

The same holds true for all the potato chips, crackers and salty snack foods. You're far better off with potato or bean salads, macaroni salad or corn on the cob.

Veggies and Dip2. Put out fresh snacks. Nuts are great party snacks and we know they'll help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Fresh veggies and dip are especially easy now that most grocery stores sell bags or platters of pre-cut peppers, celery, carrots and cherry tomatoes. Make your own dips and you'll avoid all the chemicals and salt, just as you did with the hot dogs. Put out bowls of popcorn: it's super easy to make and full of fiber.

3. Don't buy soda for your party. A can of soda has 9 teaspoons of sugar. You can make fantastic iced tea or lemonade with only one or two teaspoons a glass. Delicious, refreshing, and each drink has 100 fewer calories than the same amount of soda.

4. Think before you drink alcohol, and alternate your alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages, preferably water. At a party on a hot day it's easy to spend a couple hours at a party and drink more than you might want.

5. You don't have to have seconds. Stop and think about how great that food was before you head for the buffet table again. Sometimes that's all it takes for you to keep from overeating.

Peaches6. Serve fruit for dessert. There's nothing better on a hot Labor Day than fresh peaches. They're great tasting and great for you. Place your sliced peaches in a large bowl and it's OK to sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over them to create a lovely syrup.

Remember: it's a holiday and that makes it okay to splurge a bit with some great food. Do it, enjoy it, and don't feel guilty about it. Above all, don't let yourself think of it as getting off track like those folks in the research. Enjoy the day and don't let it become a month of overindulgence. Because you've done some planning, you'll be fine.

Holidays are part of a great life and part of being healthy. Enjoy them!

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet

Here are some great recipes for your Labor Day party:

Chilled Watermelon Soup
Black Bean Chili
Napa Cabbage Salad
Three Bean Salad
Black Eyed Pea Salad
Southwest Venison Cheeseburger
(you can use lean ground beef for this recipe)
Grilled Red Snapper with Garlic Tartar Sauce
Key Lime Pie

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet
September 4, 2010
Last updated: 09/04/10