Helpful suggestions for healthy eating over the holidays

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The holiday season is a time for enjoying the company of friends and family, a time for frequent parties and social gatherings and a time when high-fat, high-calorie foods are available. As a result, there are many opportunities for putting on extra pounds.

Research shows that the average American gains about one to two pounds during the holidays. This may not seem like a lot, but the problem is that this weight is kept on and it can accumulate with each passing year.

Avoiding the family gathering or office party may not be an option, but some careful thought, planning and making some small changes can go a long way in keeping the weight off during the holiday season. The following suggestions should help you make healthy choices:

Eat healthy each day

•Start your day with a healthy breakfast that includes whole grains, fruit, dairy foods and protein like eggs, ham or peanut butter. Eating a healthy breakfast is a good way to avoid weight gain.

•Increase fruit and vegetable intake. Include a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.

•Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.

•Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds. Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.

•Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.

Eat healthy at parties

•Try not to arrive at a social function hungry as this can lead to overeating. If you are hungry before a party or gathering, have a small snack. This could be as simple as whole grain crackers and cheese, raw vegetables, fruit or low-fat yogurt.

•Do not rush to eat. Spend some time socializing and try not to socialize near the food table. In this way you will avoid unconscious nibbling.

•Decide which food item you will eat, what you will sample, and what you would avoid.

•Practice portion control. Eat slower and use small plates. Place some fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods on your plate.

•Eat slowly and savor each bite.

•Drink water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

•Before you go back for seconds wait 10 minutes to see if you really are still hungry.

•Choose one dessert you like best. You can also share a dessert with a friend. You can still enjoy your dessert but have less of it.

•Prepare and bring a healthy dish to the party or social gathering.

Alcohol contains calories so use in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age. It is wise to begin with a calorie-free, nonalcoholic beverage to satisfy your thirst before having an alcoholic drink.

Eat healthy and be realistic

Traditions are an important part of the holidays and many involve special meals, food and beverages. The American Dietetic Association suggests that we should be realistic around this holiday season. Their advice:

•Don't try to lose weight during the holidays—this may be a self-defeating goal.

•Strive to maintain your weight by balancing party eating with other meals.

•Eat small, lower-calorie meals during the day so you can enjoy celebration foods later without overdoing your total calorie intake.

Have fun around the holidays. Enjoy traditional holiday meals and party foods with family and friends while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, too.

Source: Ingrid Adams, Extension Specialist in Nutrition and Food Science, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.