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Foolproof ways not to pack on holiday pounds

A tray homemade Christmas cookies United Lutheran Church Cookie Walk Raffle Oak Park IL Saturday Dec. 10 2011. | ShaunBittle~For

A tray of homemade Christmas cookies at the United Lutheran Church Cookie Walk and Raffle in Oak Park, IL, on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. | Shauna Bittle~For Sun-Times Media

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Eating healthfully in December can be as difficult as nabbing a prime parking spot on a busy holiday shopping day.

Maybe that’s why we Americans account for half of our annual weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It may be only a pound or two, but if it happens year after year, those pounds add up.

Blame the season whose basic food groups include cheese-and-nut logs, bacon-wrapped anything, spiked eggnog and cookies galore.

There’s no need, however, to say no to edible indulgences. Whether at a family meal, neighborhood cocktail party or office potluck, the key is making healthful choices while still enjoying food traditions.

“Nobody wants to just eat chicken and raw carrots at a holiday gathering, but at the same time, you don’t want to go over the deep end and eat anything and everything,” said Sue Ayersman, a clinical nutritionist.

“It’s about knowing what to eat and balancing pleasure and health.”

Start with a strategy — and be realistic. This is not the time of year to set ambitious weight-loss goals. Just aim to maintain. It takes an extra 500 calories a day, or 3,500 a week, to gain a pound. Keep these numbers in mind and it will take the guesswork out of what to eat, what to avoid.

Experts offer the following tips for a happy and healthful holiday noshing season:

Spoil your appetite. A high-protein, low-fat snack can reduce how much you eat at a cocktail party or holiday table and quell the temptation to load up on desserts and heavily sauced dishes. Or enjoy a bowl of broth-based soup or hot tea before leaving the house. Most importantly, remember that skipping meals leads only to binging.

Size matters. The best way to enjoy a sweet or rich appetizer without losing control is by sampling. Find someone to split that slice of cheesecake and bacon-wrapped beef-tenderloin skewer.

Pay attention to preparation and ingredients. Avoid loading up on foods that are fried, buttered or dripping in cheese and cream. These tiny, fatty bites pack on the pounds faster than reindeer fly. Opt instead for foods made with healthful ingredients such as pumpkin, cranberries, sweet potato and lean turkey.

Beware beverages. Classic holiday eggnog is loaded with fat and calories, especially when spiked with brandy. On the other hand, a glass of red wine contains half the calories, none of the fat. To reduce the number of calorie-laden drinks you consume, drink a glass of water between each beverage. This will help fill your stomach, leaving less room to overindulge. Teetotaling also helps, especially if you stick with diet sodas, sugar-free teas and sparkling water.

Eat slowly. It takes at least 20 minutes to reach satiety. Eat slowly to allow your brain a chance to catch up with your stomach.

Stay hydrated. It’s easy to confuse hunger with thirst. Drink water to keep feeling full and energized.

Gannett News Service

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