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Have a Healthy Cleveland Clambake

Posted 9/6/2016 by UHBlog

Clambakes are festive occasions in Cleveland. Learn how to minimize the calories. We can help.

Have a Healthy Cleveland Clambake

Are you as happy as a clam in September and October? If you’re like a lot of Northeast Ohioans, you’re going to “shellabrate” clambake season at least once – if not more – this autumn.

Outside of New England, Northeast Ohioans buy and serve the most clams during the fall. Perhaps it’s a nod to Moses Cleaveland, founder of the city of Cleveland, who came from Connecticut. Or maybe it’s simply that clams dipped in butter are delicious.

Whatever the reason, you can make your clambake both fun and healthy with a little pre-planning, says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

“Portion control tends to be the real challenge for most people, especially at a social event where the focus isn’t on the amount of what they're eating and drinking,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “People tend to consume more than they normally would because they're chatting and playing games.”

If you want to make this Cleveland tradition healthier, she recommends making choices about what you load up on at the clambake. These include:

  • The proteins. Most clambakes feature littleneck clams and chicken. People sometimes include a red meat, such as kielbasa. Oftentimes, these are steamed or cooked together so the juices and flavors blend.
    To keep your portions in check, make sure that you're only eating 4 ounces of protein in total. For instance, four to five clams equals approximately one ounce of protein, she says. If you combine this with the other meat served, you'll need to adjust the amounts of those portions, too.
    “Go easy on the butter,” she says. “It's meant as a flavor enhancer for the clams. Don't drown them.”
    Additionally, if you're grilling the chicken, be sure to remove the skin before eating it. For those adding a sausage to their clambake, Jamieson-Petonic recommends trying a chicken sausage, which is flavorful and has fewer calories than pork.
  • The starches and sides. Corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, coleslaw and bread and butter are typical clambake menu items.
    Jamieson-Petonic recommends choosing between the corn and the sweet potato, but not eating both. Let the season be your guide.
    “I would choose the corn right now,” she says. “It's the heart of corn season. Later in the fall, I would prefer sweet potatoes because they are high in beta carotene, a form of Vitamin A that can be helpful. Corn is high in carotenoids, which may be beneficial for eye health.”
    She also suggests making an oil and vinegar-based coleslaw versus one dripping in mayonnaise.
  • The drinks. Be mindful about what you drink, she says, and consume moderate amounts of beer, wine and/or cocktails. For women, that means one drink per day and for men, it’s two drinks. If you’re drinking sugary soft drinks, stick to one 12-ounce can.
  • The desserts. If you need a sweet ending to your meal, the best option is a fruit salad.
    “It gives you that sweet taste without the added sugar and extra calories, and it provides vitamins, minerals and fiber,” Jamieson-Petonic says.
  • The options. “You want to provide a vegetarian option at your clambake,” she says. “That's being a good host.”
    Her ideas include: A black bean or veggie burger, marinated extra firm tofu that’s grilled or pan-seared and topped with barbecue sauce and/or portabella mushrooms basted with a balsamic vinaigrette.
    Additionally, providing something that is gluten-free is a good idea, although people with allergies and food intolerances should plan on bringing something themselves that they can enjoy.

Even if you’re watching your diet, you don't need to deprive yourself, she says.

“Most people only attend a clambake once or twice per year, so I think it’s fine to enjoy these types of meals occasionally,” Jamieson-Petonic says.

For individualized advice on what to eat and how much, contact a registered dietitian. To make an appointment with Medical Nutrition Service at UH, call 216-844-1499.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other health care professional online.

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