Keeping Holiday Meals in Check

Don't fret about overeating during the holidays. Worrying too much may push you to overindulge. So relax and keep moderation in mind.

You may think that the average American gains five pounds during the holidays, but Joy Short, the director of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University in Missouri, notes that this popular notion is an exaggeration. "Most people, if they gain anything, pick up one-half to two pounds," she says. Still, a pound every year can add up.

Short offers tips for the diet-minded—which may help you stick with healthy foods in moderation:

  • Think color when putting food on your plate. The white plate—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes gravy and a roll—should be counterbalanced with colorful and more nutritionally valuable fruits and vegetables.
  • Some "bad" foods are better than others. While pecan nuts have been linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, pecan pie is loaded with calories. However, apple pie has less sugar and calories, and is also a good source of beta-carotene.
  • Hard cheeses have less fat than soft cheeses. Picking the most flavorful ones, notes Short, is a good way to eat smaller portions. Also, it's better to choose multigrain crackers over buttery ones.
  • If you drink, alternate with water; dehydration causes hangovers. Skip the eggnog, since it's high in saturated fat. Stick with red wine and dark beer, which have antioxidants that may help fight cancer and heart disease.
  • Go for fewer toppings—be it gravy, dressing or sour cream—and dish up smaller portions. "After all," says Short, "the first bite of an indulgent food tastes like the last. You don't really need a huge amount to satisfy your craving."

"When you obsess about what to eat at a holiday gathering, you get into that all-or-nothing mentality," says Short. "Then you overindulge and that leads to self-defeat."

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