10 Holiday Food Facts

10 Holiday Food Facts

1. Liquid calories
A 4-oz cup of eggnog contains approximately 350 calories. Spiking the nog with alcohol can add another 300 calories. One reasonable step that can be taken to dilute the considerable caloric impact of this traditional holiday drink is to dilute the store-bought nog with skim milk before drinking.

2. Tempting tidbits
Fat-laden munchies, such as nuts or chips and cream cheese or sour cream-based dips, should be avoided. All are relatively high in both fat and calories. Three handfuls of salty, mixed nuts, for example, can contain as many as 600 calories. Opt for fresh vegetables, pretzels, or plain crackers instead.

3. Steer clear of the cheer
If you must drink alcoholic beverages, drink them only with meals or after you’ve eaten. Drinking before you eat tends to lower your inhibitions and willpower. It also can increase hunger. Consider drinking a calorie-free seltzer or club soda with a twist of lime or lemon instead.

4. Damage control
Americans eat more than 22 million pounds of turkey each Christmas/holiday season. Several steps can be undertaken to help make eating turkey a healthier holiday meal component. For example, consuming white meat, rather than dark meat, can reduce the calories in a 4-oz portion of turkey by almost 20%. Not eating the skin of the turkey can eliminate another 20% of the calories.

5. The spud dilemma
Potatoes are an integral part of the traditional holiday menu. The type of potato consumed and the method of preparation can have a noteworthy effect on the caloric contribution of the spud to the meal. For example, a one-half cup of mashed potatoes with a ladle of gravy and a teaspoon of butter has more than three times the calories of a baked half sweet potato with a teaspoon of butter.

6. Superfruit
Because of their nutrient content and antioxidant qualities, cranberries have been accorded "superfruit" status in many quarters. Not only do they have a palatable taste (for most people), they also are almost fat free. Not surprisingly, cranberries are a favorite item on most holiday menus. Individuals who are counting their calories should consider eating their cranberries whole or chopped rather than in a sauce - a step that can reduce the calories by up to 80%.

7. A license to splurge
For most Americans, the Christmas/holiday season is a green light to feast on huge amounts of holiday foodstuffs - perhaps none of which is more aptly named than stuffing. To moderate the number of calories in this particular menu item, it is essential to keep the amount of higher fat ingredients (e.g., sausage and bacon) to a minimum while substituting fiber-rich foodstuffs (e.g., whole grains, dried or fresh fruit, and vegetables).

8. Bean there, done that
Green bean casserole is a holiday meal favorite in many American homes. Usually consisting of green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and french-fried onions, this comfort food contains approximately 275 calories and 10 g of fat in a typical serving (one-half cup). Deleting the onions can reduce the calorie and fat count by 50% and 75%, respectively.

9. Seasonal treat
Pumpkin pie is a traditional North American holiday dessert. Relative to its counterparts, a slice of pumpkin pie has considerably fewer calories and less fat than a similar quantity of cherry, apple, or pecan pie. Individuals who are watching their calories (particularly during the traditional holiday season assault on their waistline) should use nonfat whipping cream should they decide to accessorize their pie.

10. The penultimate holiday exercise
In the end, regardless of how sensibly holiday foodstuffs are prepared or how many low-fat items are consumed during the course of the meal, how much you eat is an important factor. All excess calories are usually converted into unwanted body fat. In this regard, the single best exercise that individuals can do when they start to feel full is to place both hands on the table, then straighten their arms while pushing themselves away from the table, and finally get up and walk away.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.