A few healthful eating tips to keep extra holiday pounds away

Checkup on Health

Healthy snacks © iStockphoto
Keeping cut-up fruits and vegetables handy helps ensure that one treat during the day won't turn into two or three less-than-healthy items.

Posted Nov. 21, 2012

The holidays are coming, and the gifts no one wants to get stuck with are those extra pounds associated with holiday eating. With all the family get-togethers, office parties and holiday treats, it is not unusual for people to end up with an extra five to 10 pounds by the time the New Year rolls around.

Maryam Nabavi, a registered dietitian who works with patients at several UC Davis Medical Group clinics, offers the following tips to help everyone avoid putting on weight and make healthier choices during the holidays.

Eat breakfast and regular meals daily

Many people figure it's smart to skip breakfast to “save up” for that big afternoon meal. But experts say that's an unhealthy approach. Instead, be consistent with meals to prevent overeating later. Few meals can be as nutritionally sound and low in calories as breakfast. Try a slice of whole grain toast with low-fat cheese and fresh seasonal fruit or perhaps a low-sugar, high-fiber cereal with chopped fruit and milk. Yogurt with fruit and wheat germ also offer an abundance of vitamins and fiber, along with being low in fat and calories. Such nutrient-rich foods are a healthy way to fuel the body and slow down the temptation of eating sweets.

Keep healthy food handy

It's 4 p.m. Around the office, people are tired and hungry. Coffee is ready, and there is a plate of holiday fudge on the counter. Who can resist? People don't have to deprive themselves of every treat over the holidays. A taste or bite or two a day of your favorite holiday treat should be fine, as long as you plan and prepare for those inevitable low periods that can lead to too many snacks. Keep a bag of cut-up fruits and vegetables and a slice of low-fat cheese or half a cup of low-fat yogurt handy. This will help ensure that one treat during the day won't turn into two or three less-than-healthy items.

Thanksgiving dinner © iStockphoto
When selecting turkeys for holiday meals, avoid injected or “self-basting” birds and instead baste with mixtures of fruit juice, broth, wine, soy sauce and herbs.

Cook lighter

Modify traditional foods to be lower in calories by reducing sugar and oil in recipes.

  • Opt for turkey instead of ham or roast beef.
  • Avoid injected or “self-basting” birds and instead baste with mixtures of fruit juice, broth, wine, soy sauce and herbs.
  • Cook the stuffing in a separate dish. It will be lower in fat and there will be less risk of food poisoning from undercooked meat juices.
  • Consider serving baked potatoes, yams and steamed vegetables plain rather than as part of a rich casserole or covered with cream sauce. Add salsa or spices to flavor vegetables.
  • Look for lower-fat and lower-calorie versions of favorite recipes, which are designed to omit most of the butter and cream. Substitute evaporated skim milk or low-fat yogurt for cream and sour cream.
  • With baked goods, cut cholesterol by using two egg whites instead of one whole egg, or three egg whites instead of two whole eggs.
  • Use less sugar in baked treats.

Incorporate veggies

For every holiday meal, serve (or bring to a party) an array of beautifully displayed, healthy foods along with traditional holiday fare. Make a large salad with a colorful assortment of chopped fruits or vegetables. Hors d'oeuvres can include vegetable strips with a low-fat dip, baguette rounds with light spreads that are decorated with boiled shrimp, a bit of salmon or a sprig of mint. Make vegetable roll-ups using a thin pastry such as rice paper and stuff them with low-fat cottage cheese, tofu and fresh vegetables. Flavor these fun finger foods with bits of string cheese and herbs.

Eat wisely

People shouldn't feel that they have to deprive themselves at holiday parties, but they can choose carefully. Portion control is another key to enjoying holiday foods without feeling deprived of the rich traditions.

Exercise for the whole family is important. © iStockphoto
Getting plenty of exercise is one of the best ways to feel healthy during the holiday season.

  • Skip the eggnog and choose fewer alcoholic drinks, which tend to be high in calories.
  • Sip unsweetened flavored beverages and hydrate with water.
  • Heap plates with fruits and vegetables and take only small amounts of meat, cheese and other rich foods. White meat without the skin is a lower-fat choice than dark meat.
  • Limit gravies and cream sauces to “just a drop for taste.”
  • At dessert time, limit choices to only one or two items. Try just a sliver of a favorite dessert for taste.

Exercise, exercise, exercise

Plenty of exercise is one of the best ways to feel healthy during the holiday season. Work in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise sometime during the day before a holiday meal or the office party. Holiday visits with family and friends can also include outside activities such as a bike ride or brisk walk together. Get the kids involved in exercise and recreation while they on a break from school, too. Healthy holiday habits should start at a young age.

Don’t wait for the New Year

Don't wait to make “losing extra holiday pounds” a New Year's resolution. Maintaining your weight during the holiday season, rather than gaining pounds, is a great step in starting a healthy lifestyle for the New Year. With a little planning and a few healthy tips in mind, a person can start right away and feel even better as he or she begins 2013!