As reported by The Hartford Courant, November 10, 2004.

Beware of Excess at Holidays

By Korky Vann

Let's talk turkey. Thanksgiving, the gateway to a month of holiday eating, is two weeks away. For many of us, that means too many sugarplums, holiday libations and sedentary activities and not enough fruit, veggies, whole grains and exercise. Statistics show that the average American gains anywhere from seven to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

But for aging baby boomers and older adults, holiday overindulging often results in more than a tighter waistband. Even the healthiest individuals can experience indigestion, acid reflux and other gastrointestinal problems from a steady diet of rich foods and too much alcohol. Those suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, diverticulosis and ulcers can face even more serious consequences.

Linda York, a registered clinical dietician at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, says folks of all ages can enjoy their favorite holiday treats by thinking moderation rather than deprivation.

"Making drastic changes to special recipes usually doesn't work. People want things to taste the way they remember," says York. "Holiday meals are about much more than simply eating. They're about tradition and family and sharing and socializing. A more effective route to healthful holiday eating is to limit your portions and offer to prepare alternatives if you need them."

The November issue of the Harvard Heart Letter says many of Thanksgiving's traditional foods are healthful, not guilty, pleasures. A 3-ounce serving of turkey (white meat, sans skin), for example, contains 25 grams of fat and less than one gram of saturated fat. Cranberries are packed with antioxidants and sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, potassium and fiber. Although the foods are healthful on their own, they lose virtue when mixed with butter, eggs, sugar and cream, according to Harvard experts, who agree controlling portions is key.

"Make a stuffing with less fat, replace some of the sugar in pumpkin pie with artificial sweetener or make your own cranberry relish with less sugar than the canned varieties," says York. "The dishes won't taste very different, but they'll be better for you."

Many older adults take medications that can interact with wine, champagne or other alcoholic beverages served throughout the holidays. Mixing even a small amount of alcohol with certain medications can make you feel tired, slow your reactions, increase the risk of falls and make driving dangerous.

When setting up the bar for holiday events, stock up on mineral waters, flavored seltzers, sparkling ciders and nonalcoholic beers. If you serve a spiked punch or eggnog, offer a nonalcoholic version too. And though some studies have shown that 4 ounces of red wine can be good for your health, more is definitely not better.

"Most wine glasses hold 6 or even 8 ounces," says York. "People can over indulge without even being aware of it. After you've had a small amount, switch to a soft drink or even better, water."

Certain foods and beverages as well as over the counter remedies can also interact with prescription medications. And depending on your condition, popping an antacid after overindulging can complicate a problem, not help it. People with kidney disease should check with their doctors before taking antacids. Those taking certain asthma drugs, blood-thinning medications or anti-seizure drugs should ask their physicians or pharmacists before taking acid reducers.

To help individuals avoid problems, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Consumer Information Center offers a free guide, "Drug Interactions: What You Should Know." The publication includes a chart of drug interactions warnings for prescription and non-prescription medications and a list of questions to ask health care professionals. "If you have questions about what you should or shouldn't eat, it's always best check with your health care provider beforehand," says York. "Otherwise, go ahead and enjoy yourself, then head out for a walk after the festivities."

To receive a copy of "Drug Interactions: What You Should Know," write to the Federal Citizen Information Center, Item #527L, Pueblo, CO 81009 or visit http://pueblo.gsa.gov.