Naughty and Nice Holiday Foods
Some of your favorite holiday foods are actually good for you, if you prepare them right.
By Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
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:
'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.
You get the most bone-building calcium and protein from hard cheeses.
Cranberry Sauce (Unsweetened)
Cranberries spell trouble for bacteria that cause most urinary tract infections. If you like sweet cranberries, add a minimal amount of sugar, or artificial sweetener.
Seventy percent dark chocolate contains the most flavonols -- helpful plant substances that help decrease cholesterol.
Naturally low in calories, string beans are loaded with vitamin K, which helps protect your bones. Also, a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A. But skip heavy sauces with this veggie. Try beans lightly tossed with olive oil and lemon.
Nuts are chock-full of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
This rich orange vegetable contains carotenoids for making vitamin A in the body and fighting free radicals. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium and fiber. Beware: most pies are loaded with sugar. Use artificial sweetener instead of sugar for a lower calorie dessert.
Yams offer carotenoids, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. Candied yams are high in sugar. Bake with a bit of brown sugar, or with artificial sweetener, for the taste without the calories.
Make Nice With Naughty Holiday Foods
Sure, they taste great and they tempt you to eat too much, but it rarely pays to avoid favorite holiday foods, no matter how caloric.
"Depriving yourself of a holiday treat can backfire and make you crave the food even more, leading to overeating," says Bissex.