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Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy - Ways to Eat Better During the Holidays

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By Jennifer Huget
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We all know that the holidays are not the time to try to lose weight; that's why the Holiday Challenge calls simply for maintaining our weight and not gaining that pound that the average person packs on between now and early January.

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But can we enjoy the season's treats and still meet that challenge?

Monica Reinagel, the Baltimore-based chief nutritionist for Conde Nast's NutritionData.com, says we can. By identifying our overall approach to holiday eating and by tweaking a few of our favorite foods, Reinagel argues that we can indeed indulge without increasing our bulge.

"There are two lines of thought" regarding holiday eating, Reinagel says. And the approach to choose "depends on your personality," she adds.

"You might say to yourself that Christmas comes but once a year and that trying to produce a low-fat version of a butter cookie is kind of a fool's errand," she explains. Such an approach requires you to "exercise self-restraint -- and to savor every bite," Reinagel says.

But if tasting Uncle Bob's gingerbread cookies inevitably leads to your gorging on ginger people, Reinagel offers a different approach: seeking more-healthful alternatives to seasonal sweets in foods that satisfy body and soul without triggering overeating and weight gain.

"Try to emphasize foods that seem seasonal and very festive, that don't feel austere, but that help to balance heavier treats," Reinagel suggests. For instance, an elegant spread of colorful dried fruits such as mission figs, golden figs and apricots, plus special fruits such as the crated clementines that appear this time of year and an assortment of nuts in the shell has a "seasonal connotation," she says, delivering plenty of holiday spirit -- not deprivation.

I love the nuts-in-shells idea. They are festive, especially when, as Reinagel suggests, you set them out with Grandma's silver nutcracker. "Nuts are fun, they look beautiful, they're a novelty, a tactile and communal activity, and cracking them yourself is a leisurely and mindful way to enjoy them," Reinagel says. Plus, she adds, they're generally unsalted, they're cheaper by far than canned or jarred nuts ("Fifteen dollars' worth of nuts will last you the whole season," she says), and, best of all, "you can't go through them very fast," the way you can scarf down a bowl of salted cashews.

"Salty foods taste like 'More!' " Reinagel says. "One handful of salted nuts leads you to the next one."

Here are Reinagel's other ideas for healthful alternatives to holiday standards:

Instead of a bowl of M&Ms, set out an assortment of individually wrapped squares of dark chocolate. "It feels deluxe, and because you have to unwrap each one, it takes time" and limits the opportunity to pig out.

Choose a small piece of cheese over a cracker loaded with hot, cheesy dip. "Spinach and artichoke dips sound great, like tons of vegetables," Reinagel says. "But they're treacherous -- hot mayonnaise on a spoon! They're full of cream cheese, mayonnaise or other high-fat binders, and it's very difficult to gauge your portion."


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