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Naughty and Nice Holiday Foods

Avoid holiday weight gain, and still enjoy the feast.
By
WebMD Feature

Gorging on favorite holiday foods can widen your waistline, but they don't have to spell dietary disaster. In fact, some of your guiltiest pleasures may be good for you.

Putting Holiday Weight Gain in Perspective

At this time of year, you can hardly escape hearing that Americans gain about 5 pounds from the constant celebrating.

True, some people probably pack on that much, or more, with holiday foods. For the rest of us, the weight increase is actually a lot less, however.

That's the conclusion from a New England Journal of Medicine study, which found most people gained about a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

But that's no reason to eat with wild abandon during the holidays.

"Putting on a pound or so every year makes a big difference when you never get around to losing it," says Pat Vasconcellos, RD, a Massachusetts-based spokeswoman for The American Dietetic Association.

In a decade's time, the effects of nibbling a few cookies here and there may easily add 10 pounds to your frame.

"The trick is to minimize the damage from holiday foods and have fun at the same time," says Janice Bissex, MS, RD, co-author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers.

Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Eating regular meals and snacks every day makes it easier to resist overdoing it at festive events. When you occasionally skimp on meals because you're busy shopping, wrapping, and baking, nosh on a protein-packed snack, such as low-fat yogurt or reduced-fat cheese, to blunt your hunger before gathering with family or friends.

At parties, pile your plate with lower-fat foods to limit high-calorie splurges. The following top picks have fewer calories, fat, and sodium and more fiber than other holiday fare:

  • Whole grains, such as whole-wheat rolls, wild rice, and quinoa
  • Shrimp, lobster, and other steamed seafood
  • Plain or lightly dressed vegetables
  • Meat and poultry without the gravy
  • Salad greens (lightly dressed)
  • Fresh fruit

'Good for You' Holiday Foods

You know that lower-fat foods are the wisest choices no matter what time of year. But the benefits of holiday fare don't end with fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

"Many holiday foods that people think they should avoid are actually healthy in small amounts," says Vasconcellos.

As long as you mind your portions, these perennial favorites are wise choices. For fewer calories, prepare them with an artificial sweetener used in cooking, such as Splenda. Here's what they have to offer, besides calories:

Applesauce and Apples

Heart-healthy fiber does indeed keep the doctor away. Look for unsweetened applesauce to get the fiber without the sugar. Bake apples with the skin to get a potent flavonoid called quercitin, which helps prevent heart disease.

Cheese

You get the most bone-building calcium and protein from hard cheeses.

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