Feast in Moderation

It's key to enjoying holiday food, expert says

THURSDAY, Nov. 27, 2003 (HealthDayNews) --If you eat in moderation, there's no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of delicious and tempting holiday food, says a nutrition expert.

"Let's be realistic. We know we are going to be around special foods that are tough to resist. And who says we have to resist them? Enjoy them in moderation, just don't overdo it," Joy Short, director of Saint Louis University's undergraduate programs in nutrition and dietetics, says in a prepared statement.

She says people go overboard in their worries about gaining weight over the holidays.

"The idea of gaining seven to 10 pounds over the holidays is a myth. Research suggests most people, if they gain anything, pick up a half pound to 2 pounds. And the people who obsess about it tend to gain the weight," Short says.

She offers some advice on how to approach a holiday buffet:

  • Mix colorful foods to get a healthy variety of nutrients. Good choices include: purple-red plums and grapes; bright red tomatoes and watermelon; orange cantaloupe, tangerines and peaches; and deep green lettuces, spinach, beans and avocado. Make sure your plate isn't completely white -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and a roll.
  • Pecan pie is packed with calories but recent research has linked the consumption of nuts with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and overall optimal health. Apple pie may be better for the waistline because it contains fruit and not as much sugar and calories. Pumpkin pie without whipped cream may be the healthiest pie choice because it tends to be lower in fat and calories. Pumpkin is a good source of beta carotene.
  • Baked potatoes that aren't loaded with sour cream, butter and bacon bits are a better choice than mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes, which contain beta carotene, are the best choice.
  • Select cheeses that are harder. They tend to have less fat than softer cheeses. Pick the most flavorful cheeses, such as a sharp cheddar or havarti. Because they have a more intense flavor, you don't have to have as big a piece to feel satisfied.
  • If you want a cracker to go with that cheese, choose a wheat or multi-grain cracker instead of a buttery cracker.
  • If you're at a party, alternate an alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Doing that will help prevent you from becoming dehydrated, which is one of the major causes of hangover. Choose alcohol that may offer some health benefits. Red wine and dark beers contain antioxidants, which may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
  • If you feel like having a dip, enjoy some ranch dressing on a fresh vegetable instead of potato chips. Guacamole is a good dip choice because it's a source of healthier monosaturated fat. You could also dip baked chips into salsa. If you just have to have a creamy dip, use low-fat cream cheese or low-fat sour cream.
  • When you get to the cookie platter, pick up an oatmeal cookie. It's a good source of fiber and the raisins and walnuts in the cookie are good for your heart. Share half a brownie with someone. While there are calories, chocolate does contain antioxidants.
  • Pass on the mini-wieners, meatballs in sweet and sour sauce, and the sausage platter. Instead, opt for a turkey or pork tenderloin sandwich on a dollar roll. Or have a shrimp cocktail. Shrimp does contain cholesterol but is much lower in fat than meats.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about healthy eating.

SOURCE: Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center, news release, November 2003
Consumer News