With your Easter feast or Passover repast just around the corner, we’ve asked top nutritionists and dietitians for suggestions on how to make these holiday meals healthier.
“Passover and Easter mark the start of the spring season,” Leah Kaufman, a New York City-based nutritionist tells Newsmax Health. “They traditionally symbolize ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Rejuvenation.’ What better time to think about your diet and health goals than right now, at the beginning of a new season?”
Kaufman notes that both Passover and Easter bring families and friends together for holiday meals that often feature traditional foods that may not be healthy choices.
“Creating healthy meals and snacks even when serving traditional foods can be a creative challenge,” she notes. “Many times these foods may not align with your nutritional goals, but by making simple adjustments, you can continue to eat your favorite holiday foods and not compromise your health.”
For example, Easter is one of the biggest times of the year for ham, market statistics show. But, buyer beware: Many store-bought hams are chock full of sodium and other unhealthy ingredients.
In fact, a single four-ounce portion of the most popular brands contains a whopping 1,700 grams of sodium. That’s 85 percent of the recommended daily intake.
Prepared hams also contain sodium nitrite, a potential carcinogen — as well as sodium phosphate to keep the meat moist, corn syrup, and dextrose, a simple sugar used as a sweetener.
“The takeaway message is that if you don’t want a lot of sodium and preservative as well as extra sugar in your ham, you may want to make your own from scratch or try a healthier main dish such as salmon,” Tara Gidus, an Orlando-based dietician tells Newsmax Health. “That way you’ll be reaping the nutritional benefits of high quality, complete protein with omega-3 fatty acids and important essential vitamins.”
Kaufman suggests another popular Easter favorite may be a better choice: Roast a leg of lamb.
“You’ll still get a lean protein, but without the extra salt and preservatives,” she suggests.
Amy Shapiro, founder of Real Nutrition NYC, tells Newsmax Health that the same caveat applies to a Passover favorite meat: Brisket.
“Lean meats like ham and brisket are great sources of iron, protein and your B vitamins, but be cautious on how they are prepared,” she says. “Brisket can tend to be cooked in heavy sauces which may contain a large amount of salt and sugar.”
On the other hand, eggs are a traditional part of both Passover and Easter — and are a nutritional powerhouse, notes Shapiro.
“Everyone loves a good Easter egg hunt,” she says. “And eggs are great from a nutritional standpoint because they provide a low fat source of protein and contain many vitamins in their whites. For Passover, have an egg to start during the Seder and it will help satisfy your hunger so that you won’t over indulge in heavier fare later in the meal.”
Easter eggs made with dark chocolate provide a sweet treat after the meal that also provides heart-healthy antioxidants.
Matzo bread is a Passover staple for the eight days Jews need to eat “Kosher Passover” food. Although it appears to be a simple cracker, matzo actually contains as many calories and carbs as a normal piece of bread, says Shapiro.
“Try to find a whole wheat brand to increase the nutritional value,” she suggests.
Potatoes are also an important part of traditional Easter meals, says Gidus.
“No Easter brunch is complete without a nice side dish of breakfast potatoes or a hash brown casserole,” she notes. “Potatoes are naturally fat free and surprisingly low in calories if you don’t smother them with high fat sauces.
“White potatoes have more potassium than a banana and contain vitamin C and fiber. Russet potatoes are high on the antioxidant vegetable list and have resistant starch, giving you lasting energy.”
Haroset is a delicious sweet side dish in the Passover meal, typically made with raisins, honey, apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine.
“This is a great way to eat something sweet without going for candy, cake and ice cream,” notes Shapiro. “But it can have a lot of sugar, so don’t go overboard!”
Gidus recommends adding lots of roasted vegetable side dishes to offer low-calorie options to holiday meals. Asparagus and carrots are excellent, colorful choices.
“Asparagus is an excellent spring vegetable to use in salads or as a side dish,” she says. “Carrots can be also used to make a wonderful carrot cake or carrot muffins to serve as a healthy dessert. You’ll get the benefits of beta carotene, fiber, potassium and iron.”
Kaufman offers this final piece of advice:
“Overall, the holidays are a time to spend with family and friends. Focus on the company you are with rather than the next meal you’ll eat. By engaging in conversation, you’ll decrease the likelihood of over eating.”