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Potpie Perils

When fall arrives, many of us turn to hearty foods, like creamy chicken potpie. One pie from the grocery freezer case can have more than 1,000 calories. For a fraction of the calories, try a flavorful roast chicken breast and a warm, whole wheat roll.

Game-Day Grub

Favorites like chips, nachos, pizza, wings, and ribs can spoil your diet. If you're a sports fan, you may also be glued to the couch for hours every week, so you're not burning off the extra calories.

  • Serve veggies and low-fat dip as part of your spread.
  • Eat from a plate instead of grazing at the buffet. This helps you keep track of how much you're eating.

Oktoberfest Fare

You can expect beer, potato salads, and sausages. Bratwurst, one typical sausage, has about 95 calories per ounce, most from unhealthy animal fat. Instead:

  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Set a drink limit for yourself, and alternate with lower-calorie, non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Choose light beer over regular (110 calories vs. 150 calories in 12 ounces).

Chubby Chili

You could get 500 calories in a bowl, depending on the recipe. The same goes for other meaty stews, which are often loaded with fatty beef or sausage and topped with gobs of cheese. Yet, chili and stew can be good choices when made right. Use small portions of lean meat, plenty of beans, vegetables, and spices, and just a sprinkle of low-fat cheese. In restaurants, check the calorie count before ordering.

Cream Soups and Hearty Stews

Warm soups and stews that are loaded with cream, cheese, or meat are also loaded with calories. If you serve them in a bread bowl or on top of rice or noodles, you add even more calories. Choose broth-based and vegetable-based soups and stews to fill you up for fewer calories.

Seasonal Beverages

Fall drinks -- hot chocolate, pumpkin-spice lattes, eggnog, apple cider, and hot toddies -- are a quick and easy way to take in lots of extra calories. A cup of homemade hot cocoa (without whipped cream) has 190 calories. One 8-ounce cup of eggnog packs 340 calories. Try a hot cup of green or flavored tea, rich with antioxidants and calorie-free. Or choose light beer or wine spritzers, and limit yourself to one or two.

Caramel Apples

An afternoon snack of apples with a thick layer of caramel and nuts can total more than 500 calories. Enjoy crisp apple slices with a small container of low-fat caramel dip for the same great taste -- with a fraction of the fat and calories.

Halloween Candy

October brings bags of candy home to await trick-or-treaters. It's easy to get bewitched by those bite-size candies. But few of us can have just one.

  • Stash sweets out of sight.
  • Satisfy your midday hunger pangs with something nutritious, like fruit.
  • If you crave something sweet, chew a piece of sugarless gum.

Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a favorite comfort food for both kids and adults. But one cup can pack 300 to 400 calories, depending on the brand. Add sausage or ham, and it's even more fattening.

  • Use low-fat cheese and milk.
  • Substitute veggies for meat to get more nutrition. It'll still taste great!

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

All that butter, heavy cream, and whole milk help cram about 240 calories into one cup. Ladle on 1/4 cup of fatty gravy, and you're close to 300 calories in a side dish. For fewer calories, savor 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes, without gravy. Or experiment with newer, calorie-conscious recipes for better mashed potatoes.

Root Vegetables With Added Fat

Roots like yams and sweet potatoes are super-nutritious, but you quadruple the calories when you mix them with cheese, cream, butter, canned soups, or bacon. A sweet potato casserole can easily have 500 calories per serving: 400 more than a simple roasted sweet potato. Slash the calorie count by eating root veggies oven-roasted or grilled.


Most stuffing contains high-fat ingredients such as sausage and butter. With gravy, stuffing is a diet nightmare.

  • Make a low-fat stuffing using fruits, vegetables, and stock.
  • Keep the portion small, and try to resist smothering it in gravy.
  • Chew slowly to enjoy each mouthful and allow your brain time to get the signal that you are full.

Apple, Pecan, Sweet Potato Pies

These fall favorites start with healthy ingredients such as nuts, fruits, or vegetables. But once you add buttery pie crusts, sweet fillings, and whipped cream or ice cream topping, you have decadent pies full of calories.

  • Skip the crust.
  • Add a little bit of light whipped topping.
  • Serve yourself only a sliver to enjoy these desserts without lots of extra calories.

Pumpkin Desserts

Pumpkin layer cake, cheesecake, bread pudding. There are many ways to turn vitamin A-rich pumpkin into a rich dessert. Be careful: If you add tons of cream and sugar, you negate the health benefits of pumpkin. Instead, try crustless, low-fat pumpkin custard, or low-fat pumpkin muffins.

All Things in Moderation

All it takes is an extra 100 calories per day to pack on 10 pounds a year. The best strategy for your health is to avoid weight creep altogether, by enjoying fall comfort foods in moderation.

  • Check your portion sizes.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Eat plenty of veggies prepared without added fat or sugar.
  • Use low-fat cooking techniques and substitutions.
  • Put candy bowls out of sight.

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Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on February 13, 2014