Newswise — You don’t need the luck of the Irish to stay healthy on St. Patrick’s Day. A few little changes to your holiday rituals can pay big health dividends, says Katie Eliot, instructor in the department of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University’s Doisy College of Health Sciences.
“Holidays should be fun and you can celebrate by stepping outside of your normal healthy diet,” Eliot said.
“Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite St. Patrick’s Day foods. A healthy St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean you have to ditch the Guinness and corned beef. Just use good judgment and enjoy the treats in moderation.”
Corned beef probably is the meat of choice for dinner on March 17. However, it is high in fat and very high in sodium, so watch your portion size.
The recommended amount of corned beef is three ounces, which is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards. That portion contains about half of the daily amount of sodium a person should eat.
“Portion size is always going to be important when it comes to celebrating the holidays,” Eliot said.
Potatoes and cabbage also are mainstays of a traditional St. Patrick’s meal. Eat plenty of cabbage, Eliot suggests, because it is low in calories and is a great source of antioxidants. However, go easy on the potatoes if you slather them in butter because that adds fat to your diet.
Don’t Drink Too Much
For most people, it’s OK to enjoy a green beer or two. Some alcoholic beverages have antioxidants, which are compounds that are good for your heart, so celebrate with a Guinness – just make sure you don’t overdo it.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is moderation,” Eliot said. “You want to make sure to remember that for men, it’s two alcoholic beverages a day and for women it’s one. Make sure to drink plenty of water between your alcoholic beverages.”
Drinking water throughout the day will help rehydrate your body and can prevent overindulgence.
“When we drink, not only do we get calories from that, but it also stimulates our appetite,” Eliot said. “We tend to eat more unhealthy foods when we are drinking.”
Once you've had a few green beers, consider switching to green tea, which is an excellent source of antioxidants and has been reported to lower cholesterol, as well as your risk of heart disease.
Or enjoy a green smoothie, which is a great way to incorporate your favorite green fruits and vegetables.
“St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity to eat green foods – kiwi, edamame and broccoli –they’re green, they’re healthy, and they've got lots of fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals,” Eliot said.
Kale is another green superfood that should become a part of your holiday celebration. Eliot recommends baking kale in the oven to make kale chips and adding a side of guacamole to continue the healthy and green theme.
“Kale is a green leafy vegetable – a lot of times you see it as a garnish,” Eliot said. “Kale is actually really high in vitamin K, and has lots of other good nutrients including the B vitamins, vitamins A and C, fiber and magnesium. When you bake them, they’re a really healthy alternative to potato chips.”
The traditional Irish fare can pack some extra calories, so one way to burn them is to include exercise in your St. Patrick’s Day ritual.
If Irish dancing isn’t your thing, there are often St. Patrick’s Day runs before the parade festivities begin. St. Louis will host its 35th annual five mile parade run on Saturday, March 16, at 9 a.m. The annual parade run attracts as many as 13,000 participants each year.
“I love when there’s an event associated with a holiday because you can go ahead and keep your calories under control by exercising, which lets you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the healthy way,” Eliot said.
"To make the most of this celebration, remember the holiday diet rules and make sure you get back to your normal diet and exercise routine the next day,” Eliot said.
Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in physical therapy, athletic training education, clinical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, health sciences, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college's unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.