By Dr. Nina Radcliff

The holiday season is synonymous with eating, drinking, spending time with family and friends, holiday work parties, and being merry. It is also associated with an average weight gain of 1-2 extra pounds. While it may not seem like a lot, over 10 years, we are looking at 10-20 pounds.

Whether we find ourselves celebrating at our home; a favorite restaurant; or going to a friend or loved one’s festive holiday party, here are some ideas to decrease calories and fat intake, and yes, possibly even increase our fruit and veggie intake.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Healthy Holiday Dishes

While I have said it before, it bears repeating – and please keep this key information in mind this holiday season as you make choices — the vast majority of fruit and veggies do not contain fat or cholesterol. As a result, they are a healthy alternative to salty, fatty, sugary, and processed foods and can help maintain or reach a healthy weight. They are powerhouses when it comes to essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as fiber and antioxidants.

Green Bean Casserole: While it may be true that this holiday favorite has green beans, mushrooms, and onions, there is a dark side. The canned condensed cream of mushroom soup and fried onions are laden with calories, fat, and sodium. A one-cup serving has approximately 120-140 calories, 7-8 grams of fat, and 550 mg of sodium! Some simple swaps–low fat cream of mushroom soup, 2% milk instead of whole milk, Parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs instead of fried onions–can make this dish more nutritious while keeping it delicious.

Mashed potatoes: This is a staple side dish at holiday parties. And potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. Unfortunately, the additives of sour cream, butter, and whole milk can quickly make this dish bodaciously unhealthy. One cup of mashed potatoes contains approximately 240 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 35 grams of carbohydrates. By leaving the skin on the spuds, and using some healthier substitutes—olive oil instead of butter, fresh garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme to add flavoring, non-fat sour cream or pureed cottage cheese in lieu of heavy cream or sour cream–you can enjoy this staple with less guilt.

Stuffing: There’s a whole lot of ‘stuff’ in stuffing—sausage, bacon, white bread, gravy, and butter. And with the extras come a whole lot of unwanted calories, fat, and sodium. In fact, the nutrition facts are downright scary! By choosing healthier ingredients, such as veggies (mushrooms, butternut squash, and carrots), fruit (cranberries, pears, and apples), herbs, turkey sausage, nuts and whole-grain bread, this can be a winning dish.

Gravy: Gravy on the meat, gravy on the mashed potatoes, gravy everywhere. Homemade gravy is made from turkey pan drippings which is high in fat (a ¼ cup serving can have more than 18 grams of fat, mostly saturated), and with minimal other nutrients. And while canned turkey gravy may be lighter in fat and calories, it is heavy in sodium.

Consider skimming off the visible fat. Some experts recommend putting it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to allow the fat to float to the top and then using a spoon to remove it. Other ideas include if you want to use turkey drippings, add chicken broth to the roasting pan, or use mushrooms as a base. This ‘fun-guy’ has a meaty flavor, protein, and a number of nutrients. After sautéing mushrooms until brown, add chicken or vegetable broth and reduce, then a touch of flour can help thicken it, and blending can give it the creamy consistency.

Cranberry sauce: Cranberries contain tons of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants–with no fat. However, the cranberry sauce has astronomical calorie content due to the added sugar which helps dampen their tartness. To put this in numbers, 100 grams of fresh cranberries contains 46 calories and cranberry sauce contains 151 calories. Consider adding sweetness with pineapple juice, applesauce, or honey instead of sugar.

Eggnog: This egg yolk and milk drink is a holiday tradition for many, even for our First President George Washington. However, just one cup can top over 400 calories and 19 grams of fat—and that is without the alcohol! If you are thinking of serving this favorite drink, consider swapping the whole milk or cream for low-fat or soy milk. And you may be able to decrease the added sugar by utilizing cinnamon or vanilla extract.

Some other smart tips to avoid over-indulging include healthy snacking before going to a party, drinking water or zero calorie beverages instead of alcohol, and taking our time to enjoy our meal. After all, our body takes 20 minutes to realize it is full. During that lag time, it is easy to overindulge and accumulate calories. Stop to smell the aroma, savor the taste and enjoy connecting with our friends and loved ones.

T’is the season – and by making some strategic changes, we can avoid packing on those pesky pounds that tend to carry over to the next year–all while enjoying the festivities. Let’s gobble, gobble on those once a year treats but do it wisely, slowly, and within proportion.



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