What Food Means to You

Eat what you want—without the guilt

The holiday season can be particularly difficult for diabetics, as it seems that every holiday gathering centers on food. Navigating food choices at holiday parties can also strain the willpower of even the most disciplined diabetic. The typical Thanksgiving dinner can be over 2,500 calories (with normal portion sizes) and it is easy to consume over 4,500 calories in the course of the day.

I recently had an opportunity to interview chef Charles Mattocks. Widely known as “The Poor Chef,” his cookbook, Eat Cheap but Eat Well, features healthy meals for under $7. Inspired by his uncle, the late Bob Marley, Mattocks dared to dream big. After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he focused on teaching the world to eat healthy.

Growing up on Long Island, Charles learned early on that food was a big part of our culture. Charles still loves food, but since being diagnosed, he knows he needs to manage his diet better. When first diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic, Charles was prescribed the typical treatment using metformin. But he didn’t want to be taking a pharmaceutical drug for the rest of his life, so he changed his lifestyle and diet, lost weight, and started exercising. He soon had his diabetes under control and was off all medications.

I asked Charles what he does during the holidays to stay on track. The first thing he said was “Treat yourself, and eat what you enjoy in moderation.” In order to carry out his philosophy, he begins preparing for the holidays about six weeks in advance by eating and drinking the right things and exercising; he maintains himself well with regard to diet and weight. He may even try to slim down a little beforehand. “Knowing you worked hard for something, and then being able to enjoy it, is the key,” he says. Rather than deprive himself, he simply eats what he wants in moderation.

For his own holiday meals, Charles tries to avoid processed foods, adds more fresh vegetables to his diet, and focuses on portion control. Holidays should be a time for celebration and enjoying what you like to eat—not feeling guilty about enjoying great-tasting food. He says, “Enjoy yourself during special times because, you know, life is really about winning, and once again with discipline and moderation, you can conquer everything.”

A dietician’s perspective

While Charles offers a chef’s approach to the holidays, Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, offers a dietician’s view, as follows:

>> Skin isn’t in. Go for skinless, white meat turkey breast over the dark meat drumstick with skin—this will slash the saturated fat and calories.

>> Don’t get stuffed on stuffing. Keep your portion to half a cup to get your fill while saving room for other Thanksgiving bites. You can also use whole wheat bread instead of white, use olive oil in place of butter, and leave out the sausage to save on calories.

>> Skip the roll and butter. Why fill up on everyday carbs when the table is covered in once-a-year Thanksgiving foods? Save your calories for something special.

>> Sweet potatoes are sweet enough. Bake sweet potatoes without the marshmallow topping and use cinnamon for extra flavor without extra sugar. A medium sweet potato with skin has 103 calories and is loaded with vitamin A and fiber. Save the sugar for dessert!

>> Take the mashed out of potatoes. Prepare roasted potatoes with black pepper and fresh thyme or rosemary instead. Leaving out the butter and cream will cut fat and calories, and herbs not only add flavor but also color and health to the meal.

>> Tone down the gravy. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this staple dressing, but that’s no reason to give your food a bath in it. Enjoy one tablespoon: the average tablespoon has anywhere from 20 to 120 calories, so savoring one tablespoon will keep you from feeling punished at the table without going overboard.

>> Clean the greens. Instead of the typical casserole made from canned green beans, steam or roast fresh beans and top with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of vinegar and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Leaving out the creamy sauce and crunchy topping will take the calorie count from 110 to about 25 calories per serving.

>> Pass the pumpkin. Choose pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie—one-eighth of a 9-inch pie slice has 340 calories compared to the 504 calories from the pecan. Removing the crust can save 120 calories and eight grams of fat per slice. Use just a dollop of whip cream.

>> Drink responsibly. You can and should indulge in one glass of red wine. The rumors are true—red wine is filled with antioxidants like resveratrol, which is good for your heart and can help reduce LDL cholesterol. Sip it slowly, savor, and then move on to sparkling water with lemon with the meal or tea with dessert.

Sharon Richter, RD, chimed in with a few more Thanksgiving dinner tips. When selecting a turkey “Ideally you should get one from a trusted source such as a local butcher. Fresh is always better than frozen. Choose free range and organic when possible.” And, if you love gravy but want to make it healthier, “Take the natural gravy and cook it with garlic and some wine. Boil it and strain it with a fine strainer.”


Charles Mattocks Holiday RV Tour Schedule

Catch the Poor Chef in person on his diabetic testing RV tour. He will be stopping at local hospitals, schools, doctors’ offices, and military bases.

Oct 21st – Orlando, Florida

Oct 22nd – Tampa, Florida

Oct 23rd – Miami, Florida

Oct 25th – Jacksonville, Florida

Oct 28th – Ocala, Florida

Nov 1st-2nd – Las Vegas, Nevada (children’s book signing)

Nov 13th – Atlanta, Georgia

Nov 14th – Atlanta, Georgia (World Diabetes Day, on CNN with RV)

Nov 15th – Nashville, Tennessee

Nov 16th – Kentucky

Nov 18th – Montgomery, Alabama

2014 Tour Dates 

Jan 23nd - Columbia, South Carolina

Jan 24th -  Raleigh, North Carolina

Jan 25th -  Richmond, Virginia

Jan 27th -  Washington, DC

Jan 28th -  Boston, Massachusetts

Jan 29th-31st - Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, New York

Feb 14th -  New Orleans, Louisiana

Feb 15th -  Dallas, Texas

Feb 17th -  San Antonio, Texas

Feb 18th -  Santa Fe, New Mexico

Feb 20th  - Tucson, Arizona

Feb 21st  - Phoenix, Arizona

Feb 22nd - Los Angeles, California

Feb 24th -  Santa Monica, California

Feb 25th -  San Diego, Shire headquarters

March 13th and 14th Chicago, Illinois