Nutritionists explain how to turn this holiday indulgence into fitness fuel.
Photo: Getty Images/fortyforks
If you've never had a latke, the traditional Hanukkah food, try one ASAP. These crispy, savory potato pancakes are often served with applesauce or sour cream, and they are *truly* delicious. No, they're not necessarily clean-eating-friendly, but even dietitians think that it's important to let yourself have some treats during this festive time of year. "I definitely think everyone should indulge throughout the holidays," says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., founder of Nutrition à la Natalie. "People are really worried about gaining weight over the holiday season—so much so that they forget to enjoy their favorite holiday foods and the memories associated with them." (Related: This Body-Positive Blogger Reminds Us It's Okay to Indulge During the Holidays)
Sound familiar? Well, here's what she has to say about why you should just have the latke already: "The bottom line is that you're not going to gain or lose weight after eating one or two large holiday meals," Rizzo says. "It's more the behaviors that you establish over time that contribute to your weight. So, go ahead and enjoy your favorite Hanukkah treat!"
Why You Should Eat Latkes Pre-Workout
Okay, so we've settled that you should probably (definitely) eat latkes during Hanukkah, but here's why you should try them before you hit the gym: "Pre-workout fuel should be quick to digest, not have too many calories (or be a large volume of food), and should provide the body with a boost of carbohydrates and some protein," says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., founder of N.E.W. Motivation Coaching. "Latkes fit this bill since the potatoes provide carbs, and the eggs have protein."
To be clear, we are not saying you have to work out to "undo the damage" of eating a latke (experts say there's no need to try to negate or earn food with exercise), but rather that they actually bring some pretty great nutrients to the table that can help power your workout. "Gram for gram, potatoes contain significantly more potassium than bananas, and potassium is essential for normal muscle function and maintaining your body's electrolyte and water balance," says Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D., founder of Nutrition by Carrie. Pretty amazing, right?
How to Make Them Even Better
Your family latke recipe is probably perfect the way it is, but if you're looking for ways to make them a little more suitable as a pre-workout snack, here are a few ideas.
Pair them with protein: If you're looking for a healthier alternative than the classic sour cream, "plain low-fat Greek yogurt is a logical partner for latkes," Dennett says.
Add ingredients: "Keep in mind that potatoes are nutritious, especially when you leave the skins on. The skin contains fiber as well as vitamins B and C, iron, magnesium, potassium, and other nutrients," Dennett points out. "But to boost the nutrient value, mix in other grated root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, or parsnips."
Use less oil: The more oil your latkes have, the longer they'll take to digest, which means you need to wait longer before you start exercising to avoid stomach discomfort. Solution: Use less oil. "The trick to using less oil but still getting a crispy and cooked-through latke is to start with a very dry grated potato mixture. Drain the mixture well then squeeze it in a clean kitchen towel," Dennett suggests. "It's also important to keep the oil at 350 degrees and let it come back up to temperature between batches. If the latkes go into oil when it's not hot enough, they soak up oil and turn greasy, which isn't a great recipe for health or a pleasant workout." (BTW, here are eight new healthy oils to cook with if you're looking to try something different.)
Bake 'em: "You can also reduce the oil by oven-roasting your latkes," Dennett says. "Line baking sheets with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper with olive oil. This will help keep the latkes from sticking and also make them crispier. Bake at 425 degrees, flipping the latkes when the bottoms are browned, then continuing to bake until they are cooked through." Yum!