Healthy eating: Calories are coming to town

Tips and tricks to keeping the “holiday cheer” without that dreaded weight gain fear (part I).

December 15, 2010 18:26
Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately tis also the season when the average American packs on a few extra pounds. While a recent study by the National Institute of Health reveals that the average American probably gains only about a pound during holiday season, we are still treading on thin ice. The study went on to reveal that even though we are not gaining Santa's belly, the majority of Americans never lose that extra holiday weight – and so it accumulates year after year. Think about it, how many times have you heard someone say (or even said yourself) “It’s ok … it’s the holidays! I’ll lose it after New Year's;” however, when the New Year rolls around those extra pounds do not necessarily roll right off. But who can really blame us? Between the Hanukka sufganiyot, the festive Christmas feasts and the free flowing alcohol served at New Year parties – it is sometimes very difficult to say “no” to all those holiday sweets and treats. 

Here are some tips and tricks to help you reduce your calorie and fat intake, so you can take full advantage of all that “holiday cheer” while limiting your fear.

Beware of the “Specialty” Holiday Drinks:

Most of us associate weight gain with over eating, not over drinking (and no I’m not even talking about alcohol that will come later). Like clock work, as soon as the weather begins to turn, out come the holiday drinks. From Starbucks’ infamous Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread latte to a plain old mug of hot cocoa, who can resist warming up with one of these festive drinks? Unfortunately, while delightful, each of these drinks can have between 300 to 400 calories!

TIPS:  Yes, its true chocolate can actually be good for you! Dark Chocolate that is! So the next time, you want to warm up with a steamy cup of hot chocolate, use a mix that has dark chocolate (or even melt part of a dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70% cocoa). Grabbing your hot chocolate at a café? Make sure to ask for it to be made with skim or 1% milk. Also, replacing the whipped cream with a few marshmallows is another way to reduce the calories even further.

A Pie Chart of Calories

Who doesn’t love a slice, or two of warm apple pie topped with a scope of French vanilla ice cream or festive piece of pumpkin pie covered in whipped cream? Pies, especially around the holiday time, are simply irresistible; however, when you see the calorie count, you begin to want to resist.

TIPS: Cut the crust! The majority of calories in pie come unfortunately from the beloved crust – as it contains about 2 tablespoons of butter per slice.  So, instead of indulging in a cherry pie, opt for a cherry cobbler (which has less than half the amount of pie crust). Another trick for cherry, or any other type of fruit base, pie is to use frozen (or fresh if you can find) fruits instead of canned, which are loaded with unnecessary sugar and sweeteners.

Think Before You Drink

Maybe it is because we get tipsier as we drink, or maybe it’s because we stop caring and just want to have a good time, but the calories from alcoholic beverages add up very quickly. While a glass of wine can have between 100 to 140 calories, once you enter the cocktail realm you are looking at 200 plus calories and holiday favorites such as eggnog can hit 350 – 400 calories per glass.

TIPS: To avoid unnecessary “alcohol” calories, try and alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water (this will also prevent any nasty hangovers the next day) or a club soda. Also, cut 80 calories by replacing the tonic water in your drink with club soda. Don’t forget to ask for diet mixers when possible – such as a rum and diet coke, or ask for your next mohito to be made with diet sprite.

Naughty or Nice

A gingerbread man may look all sweet and innocent and that extra large frosted sugar cooking may seem all light and airy; but as we all know looks can be deceiving, and these two famous sweets rank high on our calorie "naughty" list. But when you are warming up with a mug of hot chocolate or steamy cup of tea (a healthier option by the way), who of us can't resist one of this delectable holiday themed treats.  As we have been told since we were children – sugar is bad for us and unfortunately, sugar is the key ingredient in most holiday desserts (well ok…really all desserts).  Most of us do not have the will power to resist these sugar loaded treats, so here are some tricks.

TIPS:  The half and half rule!  A great way to start cutting calories is to cut the sugar (i.e replace it with Splenda). Unfortunately, many people are sensitive to the texture or the artificial taste of these sweeteners, so a great solution is mix Splenda and brown sugar together (the added thickness of the brown sugar will compensate for the Splenda's texture). Also, another great trick to cut the calories is to replace butter (and margarine) with applesauce. Unfortunately, some of us are just in need of the "real thing". A quick trick to get your sugar fix this time of the year is to suck on a candy cane. While this festive sweet has around 110 calories (of pure sugar), it can take quite a long time to actually finish – leaving you unable to indulge in any other sweets in the mean time.

Next week: stay tuned for part II of how to keep with the "holiday cheer" without worrying about that unjoyful weight gain fear.

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