News & Events

Enjoy Holiday Meals with Less Sodium

November 19, 2017

By Brenda Viens, Registered Dietitian for TVCCA and Backus Hospital

Some of us have waited an entire year for turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, but beware. A holiday meal can have 2,000-plus milligrams — more than a day’s worth — of sodium.

Too much sodium increases blood pressure, making it harder for the heart to pump. For a family member with congestive heart failure, a heart already weakened, a high-sodium meal could cause acute symptoms and a trip to the hospital within 12-to-36 hours.

This article provides tips to reduce sodium at Thanksgiving and I hope it inspires you to grab an apron, and share the love with lower-sodium holiday meals for years to come.

Skip the brine. Commercially brined turkey has 400 milligrams of sodium per serving — fully cooked birds have even more – so avoid turkey that lists “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution” on the nutrition label. Tip: An oven bag will ensure that your bird comes out tender and juicy without the brine.

Make traditional stuffing healthier. Select stuffing mix with less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, use low-sodium broth, unsalted butter and add layers of flavor with fresh produce, herbs, and spices.

Keep it REAL with mashed potatoes. Instant potatoes are high in sodium and also contain unhealthy hydrogenated oils. To make flavorful, low-sodium potatoes in minutes, microwave whole potatoes until tender (6-8 minutes), mash with Greek yogurt and olive oil, then flavor with garlic and onion powder or roasted garlic and chives (instead of salt).

Make gravy from scratch. Skip the salt shaker and add flavor with herbs and spices such as black or white pepper, garlic, onion powder and thyme.

Be portion-size wise. Serve stuffing and mashed potatoes with an ice cream scoop to keep portion size right. If you want more stuffing, skip dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and other starchy side dishes that are also typically high in sodium.

Take the time to enjoy the meal. Wait about 15 minutes before going back for seconds because it takes time for stomach hormones to tell the brain that we are full.

Make it mini! A slice of commercial pumpkin pie can have up to 300 calories and 350 milligrams of sodium. Swap it for a tray of homemade mini desserts. An easy way to make a traditional pie mini is to bake it in a sheet pan and serve two-inch squares. Another option is to peruse the freezer isle in search of mini fillo shells—two shells have just 30 calories and 25 milligrams of sodium. Each holds about two tablespoons of pie filling so your guests can enjoy a few mini desserts without going overboard on calories and sodium.