Consider this: The average American puts on about a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That might sound small, but unfortunately, that pound typically isn’t lost during the rest of the year, so holiday weight gain adds up over time.
My personal best (worst) was last year when I put on seven pounds during that same period! I’m blaming it on water retention. Can’t let that happen this year since I’ve got that silly royal wedding in England to attend in April.
You may think it’s hard to stick to a healthy diet during the holidays — fattening and rich holiday food is part of almost every celebration. Even so, you can still avoid holiday weight gain by making some smart choices at the buffet table.
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, runs down “naughty” holiday food choices and offers “nicer” alternatives.
Turkey is poultry, so it’s low in fat, right? Not if you eat the dark meat. “It’s packed with fat and calories,” says Ansel. Consider this: A turkey thigh has 493 calories and 27 grams of fat. “That’s more than you’d get from a slice of pumpkin pie,” Ansel notes. Another tip to avoid overeating and that uncomfortable stuffed feeling is to wait at least 10 minutes before you go back to the holiday buffet for a second helping — after waiting a few minutes, you might even decide to pass on the seconds.
A holiday ham is a much leaner option. “It has just 140 calories and 7 grams of fat per three- ounce serving,” says Ansel. That’s about the size of a tin of Altoids or a deck of cards. However, keep in mind that choosing ham with a pineapple sauce or a sweet glaze could undo your healthy choice. Suggests Ansel, “I’d skip them — they’re probably laden with sugar.” (I didn’t know you could cook ham any other way.)
Reaching for a spoonful (or two) or a thick slice of cranberry sauce to accompany your turkey? While this traditional favorite may sound like a healthy holiday food choice, you should beware of this dish. “Those tart cranberries need lots of sugar to sweeten them up,” Ansel explains. Just a quarter-cup of traditional cranberry sauce has 104 calories. Good, I don’t like them anyway.
“All desserts are not created equal,” says Ansel. What’s the worst offender? Delicious, but often decadent, holiday pie. “The crust is loaded with butter or shortening,” she warns. And the worst choice of all is pecan pie (ooops, that’s what I’m serving)— it contains more than 500 calories and 27 grams of fat per slice. And that’s before you add on any ice cream or whipped cream topping.
“Go with small, bite-sized chocolate desserts,” advises Ansel. A piece of fudge comes in at 70 calories and a two-inch brownie contains 110 calories. That little shot of sugar might be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of the meal. (Oh really, Ms. Ansel. That’s doubtful.)
You don’t have to deprive yourself during the holidays, but remember that just a few smart choices may make the bathroom scale a lot less frightening come New Year’s Day. I’ll be serving ham and fudge.