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To Eat the Cake or Not

By Shambrekiá Wise

Sweet potato cake. Cornbread dressing. Collard greens with smoked ham hocks. Baked macaroni and cheese. Hot water cornbread. These are just a few of the many vices I have during this time of year. I am still trying to figure out how to manage it all. But this ain’t about me. It’s about all of us trying to remain healthy during a very tempting time of year while not depriving ourselves from some of the most delicious things we’ll eat until this time next year. 

These indulgent, mouthwatering dishes often take a toll on healthy eating habits and rightfully so. For individuals living with multiple sclerosis, maintaining a nutritious diet is not just about weight management but also about managing symptoms and overall well-being (looks in mirror and quickly glances away). In this article, I’ll remind myself and hopefully help you understand how holiday foods, while undeniably delicious, can pose challenges for MS warriors. Additionally, you’ll find healthier and equally delectable alternatives to traditional holiday main courses.

You are what you eat

Many traditional holiday dishes are high in saturated fats and sugars, which can lead to inflammation. MS is an autoimmune disease, and chronic inflammation can exacerbate symptoms and discomfort. Make sure to mind your salt intake and drink plenty of hydrating liquids (nonalcoholic) to ensure a healthy balance. Eating heavy meals often result in feelings of fatigue, something MS patients already contend with and since overindulgence can exacerbate this symptom, make sure you are practicing portion control. Some holiday foods can also trigger digestive issues that are common among MS patients, making the holiday season particularly challenging, so make sure to stay mindful of what you eat and if you can, make sure to still incorporate exercise. Even a nice brisk walk can be energizing after a meal, so if you’re able, bundle up and meet me outside.

Cut out the fat

You don’t have to miss out on the holiday goodies just because you opt for a healthier plate. For instance, instead of the fattier parts of meats, go for a leaner selection such as a turkey or chicken breast. It's a great protein source that's lower in fat and can be just as flavorful. While dashing Himalayan sea salt as a substitute for traditional table salt, I focus more on using herbs and spices for my main course so I’m not sacrificing flavor. As a compliment, swap traditional mashed potatoes for cauliflower mashed potatoes. These are lower in carbs and calories while still providing that creamy texture and yummy flavor.

Seven fishes of the sea

A few years back, I picked up a pescatarian diet for one of my family dinners. I didn’t want to repeat items we had just a month prior, but I still wanted something tasty and filling, so I went to the sea. Unless seafood is not your thing, this variety offers so many possibilities for dishes and they are relatively quick and easy to make. One of my favorites is of course salmon because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. I like to prepare my salmon with a dill sauce for a delicious, healthy main course.

A Good Veggie Plate

A vegetable lasagna can be a colorful and nutritious substitute for traditional meat-based lasagna. Layer it with zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, and whole wheat noodles, and use low-fat cheese for an amazing alternative. Another veggie favorite of mine is a good stuffed bell pepper. Instead of a heavy stuffed turkey, try stuffed bell peppers with ground turkey. You can also mix a bit of brown rice and plenty other vegetables for a satisfying and nutritious dish that’s especially high in vitamin C. 

If you’re one for an antipasto, a warm starter is bound to be a hit. Butternut squash soup is a nutritious choice. It's packed with vitamins and antioxidants and can be a flavorful addition to your holiday menu. I like to roast my own pumpkin seeds and top my soup with them for a crunchy layer of flavoring. Sliced grilled portobello mushrooms also make a fantastic starter. You might marinate them in balsamic vinegar and herbs for added flavor.

If you need a gluten-free option, quinoa-stuffed acorn squash is a hearty, choice that's rich in fiber and nutrients. The combination of quinoa, vegetables, and nuts creates a satisfying and healthy dish.

And how can we forget dessert? This year, instead of making my dad’s famous sweet potato cake, I think I will go for my sweet potato soufflé. It’s loaded with antioxidants, not near half as many carbs as the cake and it tastes phenomenal. Check out the recipe so you can add it to your table.

Regardless of what holiday or holidays you recognize, I hope this season brings you great joy and happiness. I hope part of that happiness is sharing good food with good people and I hope this article has given you some fun ways to experiment at your next gathering. For those with MS, it's important to strike a balance between indulgence and health and by choosing to go for a healthier alternative instead of traditional holiday main courses, you can maintain your well-being while savoring the season's flavors. 

Happy Trails.