The holidays are here! That joyous time of year when people come together, surrounded by decorations, gifts, music and, of course, lots of food. While eating is perhaps the most popular holiday activity, the average weight gain during the six-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is less than one pound.
“While the statistic might seem harmless, people usually don’t ever lose the weight they gain during the season, meaning it may stick with them for the rest of their lives,” said Lori Black, Clinical Nutrition Services leader with Saint Thomas Hospital. “Think of how many years the average human lives and how many Christmases the average human will experience — yes, those extra indulgences will catch up with you eventually.”
Many think overindulging at the holidays is normal. Studies show that dining in a group, which people frequently do at holiday gatherings, causes the average person to eat 44 percent more calories than he or she normally would eat alone.
“The bigger the group,” said Black. “The more we eat.”
As the holiday gatherings with friends and families begin, Black has these tips for keeping this season’s eating indulgent yet healthy:
1. Lay off the appetizers. Guests who arrive at holiday gatherings early will likely be offered appetizers while the host anxiously puts the last minute touches on the main meal. These small, finger foods may appear harmless to the eye; however, some are actually calorie bombs in disguise.
2. Watch the dips. Creamy dips are a popular appetizer choice, especially paired with chips or veggies, but the fatty ingredients, like sour cream and cream cheese, are not beneficial to waistlines or hearts. Instead, choose the hearty, healthy salsa.
3. Pick the perfect protein. If seafood is offered, choose shrimp cocktail versus the high caloric, fried crab cakes. Also, choose lean meats, such as a ham and turkey from the deli tray, versus the fried chicken strips and chicken wings making the rounds. When the main dish is served, choose honey-glazed ham rather than the prime rib. The honey glaze is usually just a thin crust, and the ham itself is lean. It’s a yummy and satisfying choice that saves hundreds of calories. If turkey is on the spread, choose white meat over dark, which has two times the amount of saturated fat. Also, go skinless when choosing turkey or chicken dishes.
4. Curb the carbs. Rolls are a popular choice to accompany many holiday meats, but kindly pass the basket. Rolls spike blood sugar, but then blood sugar rapidly drops — this leads to overeating. End the vicious cycle by skipping the stuffing, too. Choose wild or brown rice to accompany meat choices as a side dish. Replace the loaded baked potato with roasted red potatoes. Red potatoes are proven to be heart healthy, plus skipping the baked potato condiments, like butter and cheese, cuts bad saturated fats. If sweet potatoes are on the menu, pick the baked version and not the casserole version, which adds excess sugar in the form of gooey marshmallows and crunchy caramel topping.
5. Just say no to casseroles. A good, general rule is to avoid casserole dishes completely. Skip specialties, such as corn casserole and green bean casserole, and stick to the bare necessities — the veggies themselves.
6. Downsize the desserts. All pies are not created equally. Choose apple or pumpkin pie versus the traditional pecan pie. Pecans have heart healthy benefits; however, the pie crust and filling offer nothing but excess sugar and saturated fats. If pies are being served al-a-mode, ask for frozen yogurt versus ice cream or whipped topping. Unfortunately, cakes are often calorie-laden, with excess sugar and saturated fats, too. So, when possible, pick fresh fruit for a light and refreshing way to end the big holiday meal.
7. Ditch the drinks. After the big meal, everyone often sits around the house, deep in conversation. This is when the host brings out the final holiday treat: the after-dinner drinks. Skip the gin and tonic, and instead opt for a glass of champagne or glass of wine. Also, skip the glass of eggnog or boiled custard and opt for a cup of herbal tea or hot chocolate.