Holiday super foods
Five simple ways to stay the course
Years ago I recall making a rather snowy drive from my home in Marquette, Michigan, to a cross-country ski race near Eagle River, Wisconsin, the day after Christmas. As a skier at the time for Northern Michigan University. our coach entered my teammates and me into this noncollegiate race to help ensure we stayed in shape over the holiday break.
The event was the YuleLoppet, appropriately named for the time of year. "Yule" refers to the Scandinavian celebration of light returning after the mid-winter solstice, and "loppet" is a type of run. Despite some initial grumbling from the team about the early hour we had to get up (after all, we were on break), it turned out to be a great classic course. The perfectly set tracks through dense hardwood forest mixed with evergreens had a magic holiday feel. The most unusual thing I recall about this race, however, was the blueberry soup served from a huge pot at the finish.
Back in the late 1970s we hadn't heard much about the incredible antioxidant benefits of blueberries. The Scandinavian tradition had stood the time test, apparently, judging from the age of some of the citizen racers who were at that ski race. The special yuletide soup added the final touch to a festive event, and I have never forgotten it.
This year I challenge you to get through the dark days of December and join in the yuletide celebration by fueling your mental and physical being with healthy food. Here are five simple ways to get started.
1) Rise and eat right
Breakfast is the foundation for your whole day. Because your usual routine may be anything but during the holidays, getting a good start will ensure you avoid a crash and gorge episode later in the day. Unless you plan to log a lot of kilometers on your feet, ease up on the refined carbohydrates and fat. Include two to four ounces of lean protein with each meal, spacing them every four to five hours.
Here's a great start for a light training day: Set your stove burner to high, then crack a free range egg and two whites into a nonstick frying pan, add a splash of milk, some diced organic sweet red pepper, then a little green pepper (to keep the holiday theme just right) and sprinkle on some shredded Parmesan cheese. Cover and turn the heat off. While your mini egg omelet is setting up, toast a sourdough English muffin. Spray the toasted muffin with olive oil or a no-fat butter spray and slide the egg on to one half. Enjoy.
This will get a busy day off to a rocking good start. Add a fresh orange to boost vitamin C and fiber. This meal contains all the essential amino acids to build muscle and enough carbs to get your engine in gear.
2) Snacks for the dash
Dashing is what Americans do best. At our own peril we talk, text and tweet while we drive, work and eat. The food industry knows our hunger pangs are not the only reason we grab a snack. Often food is the choice for an emotional boost and a little pleasure hit when our day gets overwhelming and fatigue sets in.
But we can eat mood-boosting snacks that have a training benefit as well. Great holiday combos are pickled herring on a rye crisp cracker or apple slices with thinly sliced reduced fat cheese. Get an instant blood sugar boost with a couple of traditional holiday German pfeffernusse cookies and hot spiced apple cider or a cup of hot chocolate.
3) The main event
Evening meals are the most difficult to put together when everyone is tired and hungry. Keep your holiday spirits high by having on hand the basics for the Swedish traditional Smörgåsbord, alternately known as a koldtbord in Norway. The American version is the buffet table, where hot and cold foods are offered, and people serve themselves. An updated version of this simple concept is the "anti-inflammation station," a sort of buffet of super foods.
Here's how to do it: Start with high quality super foods, such as smoked king salmon, organic mixed greens, dried blueberries or cherries, roasted almonds, organic carrot chips, reduced fat feta or mozzarella cheese and kalmata olives. Serve with an antioxidant loaded pomegranate salad dressing or dijon mustard dressing and apple cider. Add your favorite whole grain bread, crackers and a hot vegetarian soup to round out this easy meal.
4) Immune system maintenance
'Tis the season of good cheer - and sniffles. Christmas programs, holiday parties and shopping malls mean crowds and more exposure to cold and flu viruses. Maintain your natural immunity with probiotic enhanced foods. My picks for a great party dip or snack: Plain reek yogurt to stand in for any sour cream dip recipe, vanilla yogurt flavored with a sprinkle of cinnamon and served with crispy apple and pear slices, or
organic hummus served with raw vegetables. Optional: Chopped organic figs and walnuts for extra fiber and crunch in the yogurt.
5) Quick recovery foods
Outdoor exercise such as skiing or snowshoeing call for recovery snacks. Don't cave to frosted holiday cookies or rich cheese balls and crackers. Athletes need a better balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat.
My picks for a special holiday recovery snack is six ounces of light eggnog, spiced hot apple cider, specialty gourmet blackberry mustard and pretzels or gluten free crackers, or a handful of roasted almonds and sparkling water with cranberry juice.
I have not skied a YuleLoppet since college, but the memory of that classic race and blueberry soup does get me thinking about the future. Perhaps after 30 years it is time to bring both back. Am I being nostalgic? Perhaps. But I think what we only experienced then, we know now. Happy holidays!
Donna Marlor, MA, RD, CSSD, is a registered dietician specializing in nutrition for endurance exercise and weight management. She offers motivational coaching and behavioral skills training to change eating patterns. Marlor is a consultant to the Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan, and works with many individual athletes from novice to elite. A former collegiate alpine and Nordic skier, Marlor still enjoys master's level competition as a skier and runner as well as spending time with her family and chocolate Lab in the Upper Peninsula. She can be reached via www.DonnaMarlor.com and at 906/360-9049.