The temptations of the season often come not with glitter and sparkle but with sugar, fat and calories.
Joseph Maiorano, with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said, "Fortunately, weight gain isn't inevitable. In fact, most studies suggest an average weight gain over the holidays of about a pound. This is good news because most people assume it is five or 10 times that number."
Researchers warn that people tend to keep that extra pound instead of shedding it after the season is over, it was noted. Those pounds can pile up over time, leading to significant weight gain over the years. And studies indicate that people who are already overweight are more likely to gain 5 pounds or more during the holidays.
Eating a light salad for one of the three daily meals during the holidays will help keep the numbers on the scales from moving upward. -- Esther McCoy
"Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge is that this will not be easy. Accepting that in advance will help make a more serious effort. With that in mind here are a few tips from the experts," Maiorano said.
Unless you can easily estimate and track calories of the special treats and meals, you're likely to face over the holidays, try a mindful eating approach instead. A recent Ohio State University study showed that this technique can help people with diabetes to significantly reduce their weight and blood sugar. To use this method, take a few minutes before eating to assess how hungry you are and then make a conscious choice about how much you will eat. When full, stop eating, no matter how tempting the food is.
Learn to say no politely: "It's delicious, but if I eat one more bite, I'll feel stuffed." Don't let yourself feel pressured into eating more than you want.
Help yourself with portion control by using smaller plates, especially at a buffet. Fill it up with vegetables or lean protein, if possible, before you add other dishes. When eating out, ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your food and put half of the meal in it before you take a bite.
Watch the alcohol. A recent study showed that American adults get an average of 5 percent of their calories from alcohol alone, amounting to about 100 calories a day. That could easily increase during the holidays. Set yourself a limit in advance and follow any alcoholic beverage with a big glass of water.
Find ways to increase physical activity to account for extra calories. Stretch your 30-minute workout to 45 minutes. And make it a point to always park far from the entry to work or the store, just to work those extra steps in.
Choose a dip with fruit, veggies and legumes as the primary ingredients and fill it out with low-fat dairy, healthy oils and nuts for additional nutrients. For example, salsa is low in calories and fat. Creamy hummus is another healthy option. Always check the nutrition label as some dips can contain unexpected ingredients that can make them more calorie dense than expected.
A chicken dish with a red sauce that would go with the Christmas season is Chicken with Mango-Cherry Chutney. This is from "Diabetic Cooking," with recipes approved by registered dietitians but it fits into any low fat, low calorie diet.
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh mangoes, divided, 2 mangoes
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onions
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or small boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1 pound total
Prepare grill for cooking or preheat broiler. In medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup mangoes, cherries, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook and stir over medium-low heat 5 minutes or until mangoes are tender. Mash mangoes slightly. Stir in remaining 1 cup mangoes and onions. Keep warm. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of chicken. Grill or broil chicken 7 to 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the center, turning once. Serve the mango mixture over chicken. Or brush a small amount on the chicken the last several minutes while grilling and serve the remainder on the side. Makes four servings at 230 calories and 2 grams of fat.
Potatoes should be eaten in moderation. They can add the calories fast if they are mashed with loads of cream and butter or made into the cheesy potatoes that are so popular.
Here is a recipe from the April 2005 Healthy Exchanges Newsletter for a potato dish that has two other veggies in the mix, along with low-fat cream of mushroom soup.
Scalloped Potatoes and Peas
4 cups peeled, thinly sliced raw potatoes, rinse to remove more starch
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2.5-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup chopped onion
10 3/4-ounce can low- fat cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon light margarine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter-flavored cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, peas, mushroom and onion. Layer half of potato mixture in prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, combine mushroom soup, half and half and black pepper. Spoon half of soup mixture over potato mixture. Repeat layers. Drop margarine by 1/2 teaspoons over the top. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and continue baking for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Place baking dish on a wire rack and let set for 5 minutes. Makes six servings at 138 calories per serving, with 2 fat grams.
Here is a recipe for a creamy, low-fat dessert that has only 192 calories per slice of the eight-serving cake. It is from "Hungry Girl," offering daily tips and tricks for healthy eating. The cake is as light as a cloud, and the frosting is as thick as a blanket, it is noted by Hungry Girl.
Frosty the Vanilla Cake
3 tablespoons, about 3/4 of a four-serving box of sugar-free, fat-free vanilla instant pudding mix
3 tablespoons Splenda no calorie sweetener, granulated, or an alternative
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed
3/4 cup fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
Half of an 18.25-ounce box, about 1 3/4 cups, moist-style white cake mix
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup club soda, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup liquid egg whites, about four real egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray.
To make the topping: In a medium bowl, combine pudding mix, sweetener and vanilla extract. Add 3 tablespoons cold water and stir vigorously until smooth and slightly thickened. Add whipped topping and cream cheese and stir until smooth. Cover and refrigerate.
For the cake: In a large bowl thoroughly mix cake mix with baking powder. Add club soda and vanilla extract and whisk until completely smooth. Place egg whites in another medium bowl. With a hand-held electric mixer, set to medium speed, beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
Gently but thoroughly fold egg whites into cake mixture. Pour batter into the cake pan. Bake until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Once cool, transfer cake to a large plate. Evenly spread with topping. Be sure to refrigerate leftovers. Makes eight servings.
(McCoy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)