Staying on track with your weight loss goals can feel like an impossible task around the holidays. The good news is, enjoying occasional indulgences while celebrating with loved ones doesn’t have to derail your diet. The key is to focus more on the foods that fill you up, so you have a little less room for those “empty calories.” Specifically, experts say one of the best strategies you can employ at the dinner table this year is to load up on the turkey as opposed to those side dishes.
“Unfortunately, the holidays can bring out the worst in eating habits,” says
Lauren Pimentel, RD and owner of The Cake Nutritionist. “People tend to restrict themselves during the day and save their calories for that party or special dinner. Once they’re at the party, they often overeat because they have literally been starving themselves and can’t get the food and drinks in fast enough. This is the body’s natural reaction to deprivation—your brain will signal you to eat tons of food to make up for the missing nutrients.”
According to Pimentel, turkey is an excellent choice because it’s super high in protein. In fact, a 4-ounce serving of turkey breast offers a whopping 24 grams of protein, which is nearly half of your daily value.
“Turkey is an awesome addition to your plate when trying to avoid weight gain,” explains Pimentel. “Turkey’s high protein content slows down digestion and fills you up faster. This can help you avoid overeating and being left with post-meal belly bloat.”
Consider going for the breast, since this part has less fat and calories than most other cuts of turkey, Also, since the skin adds calories and is high in fat, Pimentel recommends removing it for an even leaner main course that will keep your belly flat during the holidays.
Research supports this advice, too. A 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that diets high in lean meats and poultry (like turkey) and lower in starchy carbs appear to be “the ideal for the prevention of weight regain.” Overweight and obese subjects who went on a high-protein, low-carb diet lost weight by the end of the six-month study, whereas those in the low-protein, the high-carb group regained an average of four pounds.
What about the best side dish?
Looking for a healthy side dish to round out your plate, experts highly recommend reaching for the butternut squash.
“It’s low in calories and high in fiber, making it perfect for weight loss, regulating digestion, and staying full after meals,” says Pimentel.
Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and a member of our medical expert board, adds that butternut squash is also an excellent source of potassium, which can reduce bloating by getting rid of excess fluids in your body.
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