Marilyn’s story is a stark reminder that we are what we eat—and it’s something to consider as we mindlessly munch our way through the holiday season.
According to researchers at Texas A&M International University, Americans gobble up an extra 600 calories per day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The average person gains 1 pound during the holiday season, which doesn’t sound like much until you remember that most of us never lose that extra weight. The weight stays on throughout the winter and keeps adding up, year after year. For people who are already overweight, the news is even worse: Overweight people tend to gain 5 pounds—or more—during the holidays.
If you want to avoid the holiday spread, here’s a tip: Put down the turkey drumstick and back away from the baked brie. Avoiding animal foods is the easiest way to whittle your wattle.
Turkey flesh is loaded with even more fat and cholesterol than many cuts of beef, and a turkey’s leg contains more than 1,600 calories—40 percent of which are derived from fat. Unless the cheese on the ubiquitous cheese tray is made with low-fat milk—are you really going to ask?—every single bite you take could contain 50, 60, even 70 percent fat. Shrimp cocktail may look harmless, but this perennial party favorite is a cholesterol bomb. A typical serving of shrimp contains two-thirds of the maximum amount of cholesterol that you should consume in an entire day.
Stick with the meat- and dairy-free holiday hors d’oeuvres—think mushroom pâté, roasted red bell pepper bruschetta and white bean dip—and you won’t be asking Santa for a bigger belt.
Numerous studies have linked the consumption of animal products with unhealthy pounds. The American Dietetic Association reviewed hundreds of studies and concluded that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity as well as lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and several types of cancer.
Population studies show that meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times the obesity rate of vegans (people who consume no animal foods, including meat, dairy and eggs). Vegans are, on average, 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters, and they stay slim even during the season of eating.
When researchers at the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asked overweight patients to try a low-fat, vegan diet, not only did the patients lose weight without counting calories—they also kept the weight off during the holidays.
Here’s another reason to forgo the traditional holiday bird and other animal foods: Investigations inside factory farms and slaughterhouses have repeatedly turned up unimaginable abuse. PETA’s recent undercover investigation at one of the world’s largest turkey-breeding companies in West Virginia, for example, revealed workers punching live birds, bludgeoning birds with pipes and pieces of wood, stomping on birds’ heads and deliberately breaking birds’ bones. One worker bragged about jamming a broomstick 2 feet down a turkey’s throat. Go vegetarian and you might just lighten your conscience as well as your load.
Unless you want to start off the New Year looking like a Butterball, it’s time to stop thinking of giblets and eggnog as essential holiday food groups. By enjoying healthful holiday treats such as Silk soy nog, mock turkey, baked acorn squash drizzled with maple syrup and other vegetarian fare, it is possible to survive the season with no pain—and no gain.
Paula Moore is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510. For vegetarian holiday recipes, visit www.VegCooking.com.