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Constance Marie Serves A Healthier Thanksgiving

Constance Marie has more energy than ever after going meatless.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Actress Constance Marie has a lot for which to be thankful. But while she's starring on both The George Lopez Show on ABC and American Family on PBS, she won't be giving thanks for her success with a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

That's because Marie doesn't eat meat.

"I'm a fish-atarian - no red meat, chicken, or pork," says Marie.  "I haven't had red meat or pork in probably 20 years because when I was younger I was very active but when I ate red meat I felt heavy and weighed down and lethargic. About seven years ago I just decided to cut out the poultry completely. I felt so much better, leaner and had even more energy."

But just eating fish - called a pescatarian - makes Thanksgiving a culinary challenge.

"Thanksgiving is my favorite eating day," states Marie, who plays Lopez's wife Angie. "I love it but I don't eat turkey.  I serve tofurkey. It comes with tempeh drumsticks that get nice and crispy and this amazing tofu gravy."

Tofurkey does not contain animal fats and therefore is extremely heart-healthy. And before true Thanksgiving gourmands scoff at the thought of a turkey-less holiday table, Marie says tofurkey even won over her mother.

"My mom loves the tofurkey actually," Marie says. "And my step-father who loves to cook really likes the tofu gravy. So I'm slowly wearing them down."

Meanwhile, health professionals are hoping Americans will be slowing down - on the over-eating. More than 60% of Americans are overweight or obese according to recent data.

"If Thanksgiving was the only day of dietary indulgence the entire year, Americans would not be suffering under the plague of obesity," says Michael Hirt, a Harvard-trained internist and board certified clinical nutrition specialist. "One day won't ruin your diet, but the problem is people tend to eat trigger foods which set off an eating binge that lasts through the winter."

Healthy ingredients 

Most studies report that Americans pack on the pounds during the holidays and over-eating is often a major contributor. So is eating the wrong foods. These can include sodium and fat-rich dressings, gravy and stuffing which are ill-advised for guests with histories of high blood pressure, heart disease/failure, diabetes or edema. 

"I make veggie stuffing," says Marie, who also starred in Tortilla Soup. "It's much healthier than regular gravy. I also serve a lot of the traditional dishes like potatoes and fresh vegetables."

And Marie even has a solution for those hard-to-resist, calorie super-charged desserts.

"When I make pumpkin pie I eliminate about half the sugar and it still tastes great," Marie reports. "I also have eliminated a lot of the sugar in my diet. I read that we consume three times the amount of sugar that our grandparents did. That's insane. It's not healthy."

Marie tends to eat more of a Zone Diet - consisting of 40% protein, 30% fats and 30% carbohydrates. She also eats five or six small meals throughout the day "to keep my blood sugar from spiking so I crave food less."

But being a strict vegetarian or vegan also comes with a nutritional caution.

"It is hard to be a pure vegetarian without running into vitamin deficiencies such as B-12," states Hirt, who is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine on Wilbur Avenue in Tarzana, California. "Supplements can help as can good meal planning, but you have to educate yourself and your family to do vegetarianism correctly.  Adding fish to the diet can bring balance and B-12 to your diet.  There is good scientific data that shows that people who regularly consume fish live longer than those who do not."

Holiday tips

If you do over-indulge, Hirt has some effective remedies.

"If you find that you are more stuffed than the bird on the table," Hirt advises. "Try sipping some hot ginger tea and chewing fennel seeds pan fried in a little sesame oil.  These remedies have been used for centuries by those whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs.  Taking a walk also helps to stimulate the bowels and get that giant bolus of holiday food moving through your digestive tract."

But before you go for that walk, Hirt reminds people to refrigerate any leftovers.

"Put any leftovers you want to keep into the fridge while still warm," Hirt cautions. "If food has been sitting out while Aunt Sally regales the table with stories from her last bake sale, consider giving it to the dog but not keeping it for tomorrow's dinner.  Food can go bad quickly and the cold temperatures in the fridge and freezer will not kill the bacterial overgrowth that may have already contaminated your food." 

Marie healthy lifestyle is something she practices rather than preaches.  But her health, energy and looks haven't gone unnoticed.

"People see that I have tons of energy and I stay slim and I get to eat what I want," Marie says. "That's the best way to advertise healthy eating. That's how George got interested in my diet and now he has lost 43 pounds -- because he gave up meat."

Marie is grateful for her health and her sky-rocketing career this Thanksgiving and reports that even Lopez appreciates his new-found health and diet.

"George said the other day, 'Who would have ever thought I'd be a vegetarian?'" Marie says. "There's nothing wrong with being as healthy as you can be. It doesn't take that big a sacrifice. You don't just have to eat salads."

• Vegetarian Resource Group

• My Best Health Diet Center

• Vegetarian Times

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 11/22/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

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