Now we find ourselves in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas - a time notorious for overeating and indulging. Most of us allow ourselves a few treats here and there, and we've all probably heard the statistics about how much weight is gained during this time period between the two holidays. Some estimates put the amount of weight gained as high as five or six pounds and other sources are more modest at one to two pounds gained in the four-week period. Whether it is one pound or six pounds gained, another interesting statistic shows that usually the weight that is gained during this time period is not lost again. When you consider that this holiday period comes around once per year, it isn't hard to see how those pounds just slowly creep on.
So, is there a way to limit the annual weight gain? Is there a way to make these seasonal goodies "healthier?" We all probably have some traditional favorite recipes that we don't want to tamper with. But there are some things we can do just as a matter of practice that can help us cut back on the number of calories that we eat in a day. Most treats seem to have some combination of fat and/or sugar, so that would be a good place to start.
Fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrates or protein; one gram of fat contains nine calories and one gram of carbohydrate contains four calories. So, if you keep this in mind and try to limit menu items that contain extra fat, or if you can cut back on foods that are high in fat, you can save yourself a lot calories in the long run. For example, can you substitute low fat dairy products such as skim or 2 percent milk for whole milk or cream? Can you use reduced fat or fat free cream cheese products? Have you tried substituting applesauce or a fruit puree for the oil or shortening in some of your baked good? How about using broth instead of butter to moisten your stuffing? Little things like this over time can add up to significant calorie savings. Several years ago I worked on "lightening" up the popular cheesy hash brown casserole that my family enjoyed at special events. I gradually cut back on the margarine it called for, tried substituting fat-free sour cream for the regular version one time, tried using low fat cheese and eventually came up with a lower fat version of the recipe that we all still enjoyed just as much.
Even though sugar contains fewer calories than fat, it can still contribute a significant number of calories to our diet. The other problem with sugary foods is that they don't usually fill you up because they don't have much in the way of fiber. If you like the sweet taste, how about choosing foods that are naturally sweet, like fresh or dried fruit? The holiday seedless grapes this time of year are usually very tasty as are the popular, little Clementines. Seeking out recipes that call for fruits and vegetables that can add vitamins, minerals and fiber or bringing a relish platter with a variety of fruits and vegetables with a low fat dip to a get-together may be appreciated by many.
In addition to modifying our food preparation techniques, sometimes it makes more sense to modify our habits instead. Limiting portion sizes, being mindful about what we choose to eat, choosing healthier options and exercising regularly are good habits to adopt now and throughout the year. Consider that your effort to cook and eat more healthfully is a holiday gift you can give to yourself.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org