Healthy Holiday Eating

Healthy Holiday Eating

Tips to make the holidays fun, but healthy.

It's official, the holidays have begun. Bring on the turkey, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the green bean casserole and the steaming fresh rolls with melting butter.

Don't forget the desserts — apple, pumpkin and pecan pies. And, since it's Thanksgiving, how about adding 5 pounds in extra holiday weight?

This holiday season, learn how to enjoy the holiday treats, while also maintaining a healthy weight.

Meg Martin, registered dietitian, offers tips for staying healthy this holiday season.

"The first goal is not to lose weight, but to prevent weight gain," said Martin, clinical nutrition manager Inova Alexandria Hospital.

"People who have a weight problem, it's common for them to gain 5 to 10 pounds over the holiday season," she said. "Usually, when people try to lose weight over the holidays, they tend to gain weight."

One way people can help cut the calories in holiday favorites — like stuffing — is to use healthier ingredients, said Martin.

These include using more chicken broth than butter in stuffing and mashed potato fixings. Because chicken broth is almost entirely fat free, it is healthier than the butter or margarine called for in most recipes. And, instead of using sausage in the stuffing mix, try more dried fruits and nuts to add flavor. Fruits and nuts are also high in fiber and a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended daily food intake.

Gravy is another holiday tradition that can be high in calories and fat. To help reduce the amount of fat calories, Martin suggests using more flour and chicken broth to thicken the sauce. She also recommends using the drippings from the cooked meat to add flavor. Although they contain some fat, the amount is less than that in butter.

Martin also points out that the holiday meal is more than just meat and potatoes.

"People need to increase the amount of vegetables they cook," she said. "There are not enough in people's diets as it is, but during the holidays you should eat more. Fill yourself up on fiber, rather than fat."

For dessert options, pumpkin pie is healthier than pecan pie, but both should be consumed in small portions.

OTHER HEALTHY TIPS include only taking one plate of food at holiday gatherings or cocktail parties. When sampling hors d'oeuvres, stay away from the dough-covered foods, little quiches, cheese squares and anything fried. Instead, sample the shrimp cocktail, small amounts of nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables — but stay away from heavy sauces.

Also, on nights when a high-calorie dinner is planned, make sure to eat during the day, but eat lighter, high-fiber meals like fruits and vegetables.

"Eat a low-fat breakfast and lunch, but do not go into a larger dinner hungry," said Martin. "People tend to eat more, and instead gain more weight because of that."

An increase in physical activity is also a good way to maintain a healthy weight, while still being able to enjoy the high calorie meals, said Martin.

On the days people do not have to work, they should plan extra activity, like a walk or a trip to the gym, to burn those calories that will be consumed at dinner.

"The holidays are a good time to start new traditions," said Martin. "Do a holiday walk with the family or plan a football game with neighbors. Try to do more than just sit around and eat."

The USDA recommends 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity a day. But, this does not have to be at all one time. This can include walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator, parking farther away from the store, even vacuuming or cleaning the house. But, people should also focus for at least 30 minutes a day on one exercise, like biking or walking, said Martin.

"It really does become more important to get exercise in there when these extra calorie foods are around," she said. "The more food there is around, the more likely the chance that they'll go back to eat more."