Healthy, happy holiday eating for all

The holidays can be a tough time for families to eat healthy and to avoid gaining some extra pounds with all the treats on display. Planning ahead is key. Know what kinds of food and actions are good for your body and what isn't. Check out some tips below on how to eat healthy during the holidays so that you and your family can have a healthy and happier holiday season.

Menus

Before you prepare your meals, you should examine your menus. Do you have traditional dishes that you make every year? Think of some ways you can make your traditional holiday foods healthier. Will that casserole taste just as good with fat-free or light sour cream instead of regular? Can you steam the green beans this year instead of sautéing in butter? There are plenty of ways to lower fat, sugar, and carbohydrate counts in your favorite foods while still keeping the taste and texture you love. You can find many tasty reduced calorie versions of traditional favorites at www.eatingwell.com.

Portion Distortion: Learn how to avoid holiday weight gain by watching portion sizes

During the holiday season, when gatherings and even shopping trips are often centered on food, weight gain can seem unavoidable. But watching portion sizes can help prevent those extra pounds. Keep your portions small so you can enjoy most foods. Don't use eating out or special occasions as an excuse to eat too much. When you eat more calories than your body needs or uses, your body saves it as fat. Holiday buffets and potlucks can really be tough to resist, but here are a couple of tips. Get the smallest plate in the buffet line, and take a taste of different dishes, not whole servings. Resist the temptation to go back for seconds or thirds. Save the leftovers for tomorrow. You can also eat a snack like an apple or a small sandwich before you go to a big party so that you won't be starving once you arrive and be as tempted to overindulge!

Believe it or not, there is a "right number of calories" for you to eat each day. This number (2,000) depends on your age, activity level, and whether you are trying to gain, maintain or lose weight, but 2,000 calories is the value used as a general reference on the food label. You can find out the number of calories you need at www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines (see Chapter 2 of the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines) or you can talk to your health care provider.

Did you know that if you eat one less spoonful of food than you do now every day for a year, an average person will lose a pound in a year? Now that may not seem like much, but if you cut down one spoonful each meal, or one serving, you can see how over time you will gain better control of your weight.

Figure out ways to eat more fruits and vegetables this holiday season

Adding more vegetables to your meals is a great idea for everyone and the holidays are a perfect time to get started. We all want to dress the table with plenty of tempting treats. Often the menu's vegetable section has the fewest options of all. Vegetables are a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals. Most vegetables are low in "bad" carbohydrates (the type of carbohydrate that raises your blood sugar quickly), making them great choices for people with diabetes. We tell kids in school "Eat a rainbow." Vegetables with lots of color are filling and good for you, especially if they are steamed, baked, or stir fried in a little canola oil. A good rule of thumb with vegetables is that healthy meals are made up of colorful foods. Bright colors in natural foods like tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and green vegetables mean they contain antioxidants - food substances that help prevent disease. Usually, the deeper the color of the food, the more nutritious it is.

In the winter, our vegetable options may be more limited, but there are still some good choices in your market, such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and other root vegetables. Another great option is any type of squash. Squash can be eaten year round because there are winter varieties as well as summer ones. Squash contains vitamin A, C, some B vitamins, iron and calcium. Winter squash is especially high in vitamin A. Whether you serve steamed or grilled zucchini (squash) as a side dish or as a main part of your meal, it's a very nutritious addition to your menu planning.

Although vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals, some vegetables really belong in the "starch" section of the food pyramid. Watch out for potatoes, corn, and other starchy vegetables because they are high in carbohydrates and raise blood sugar levels more than leafy greens and other veggie options.

Eat more whole grains.

Whole grains are found in whole wheat breads, bran cereals, whole grain cereals, wild rice, brown rice, and oatmeal. Look for the word "100 percent whole grain" on the label. Whole grains have more vitamins and more fiber and are better for you and your kids than foods made with white flour. Try making holiday breads with some 100 percent whole wheat flour. Have 100 percent whole wheat rolls instead of those made with white flour.

Try something new for holiday baking.

You may have a tradition of baking cookies, breads, pies or cakes for the holidays, but those goodies are hard to resist in your home. There are new recipes that substitute applesauce for oil or butter in quick bread recipes, or low fat yogurt for sour cream. (Note: be sure to check for recipe changes as sometimes you have to change your liquid amount and baking soda for baking powder.) Remember, that pie is just as good without the ice cream or whipped cream, or use the "light" cream if you must and just a spoonful as a garnish. For diabetics, there are recipes using artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes for desserts and baking. And in the holiday spirit, give your goodies away and everyone will be happy!

Do not eat foods that have trans fat in them.

This type of fat is not good for your health. Look for hydrogenated oil or polyhydrogenated oil on the ingredient list and avoid foods that are made with this ingredient.

Watch how much salt you eat.

Do not use the salt shaker if you eat a lot of processed foods, i.e., foods from bags, boxes or cans, or fast food. They put a lot of salt in those foods already. Slowly train your taste buds to need less and less salt. This holiday start a healthy family habit by using lemons or another salt replacement to flavor vegetables instead of table salt.

Try to avoid sweetened beverages that contain "high fructose corn syrup."

Try to avoid all regular sodas and other sweetened drinks. This includes sports drinks unless you are exercising hard. Juices also have a lot of calories, sometimes more per ounce than regular soda. Instead, drink lots of water. For flavor, you can add lemons or try calorie-free sparkling water for some fizz.

Yes, you still need to exercise!

Exercise helps you control your body weight by balancing the calories you take in as food with the calories you burn off each day. It keeps your mind and body healthy and will also help with the stress the holiday season may bring.

The current recommendations state that if you want to lose weight you probably need to do some moderate intensity exercise (breathing heavy but still able to talk) for at least 60-90 minutes on most days. To keep your weight where it is now you need to exercise at least 60 minutes a day. To help prevent some chronic diseases (such as heart disease and diabetes) you should try to exercise at least 30 minutes per day along with a healthy diet. Children and teenagers should be physically active for 60 minutes every day. For further questions about exercise and to help develop an exercise program that is best suited for you, talk with your health care provider.

Following all or some of the tips above should help you and your family as you prepare for a healthier happier holiday season this year!

The final words

Two aspects of weight control that can be easy to forget during the busy holiday season are the importance of eating breakfast and getting enough sleep. Mother always told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and she was right. There have been several studies that show us that people who skip breakfast on a regular basis have a six times higher chance of becoming overweight. Breakfast is a great time to increase your whole grain intake. Have a bowl of cold cereal with whole grain toast or some body warming oatmeal with fruit. Finally, try to get your usual amount of sleep. Sleep is now known to be a very important part of our weight control. If we do not get enough sleep, we are more likely to become overweight.

The article above is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and Healthy Meal Planning from the American Diabetes Association.

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