On Your Health

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Eat a Little Healthier This Holiday

We are thick into the holiday season, and for most of us that includes much merry-making and celebrating. Christmas only comes around once a year, and it's the perfect time to enjoy family, friends, good health and good food.

However, sometimes we go overboard on the food splurge. The average weight gain for most people during the holidays is about one pound. Although that might not sound like much, most of us never lose that one pound. Studies show that the average weight gain for most people per year is two pounds, which breaks down to about 20 pounds per decade. So holiday weight gain (if you gain that one pound and never lose it) can be blamed for half of the weight that most people gain as they get older.

Recently, The Today Show aired some handy tips on ways to avoid holiday weight gain. These tips include watching your alcohol intake, planning your indulgences before you eat them (they call these "conscious indulgences") so that you can control your portion size, making sure to fill up first on protein-heavy hors d'oeuvres like shrimp cocktail or chicken skewers when you are at a party, and having a "safe" comfort food (like a small piece of chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of peanut butter) ready to go. Studies show that cutting back by as little as 100 calories a day can help prevent holiday weight gain, so every time you moderate your intake by just a little bit you will be doing yourself some good.

Karen Massey, who is a registered licensed dietitian at INTEGRIS, agrees that little changes to your calorie intake can make a difference this time of year. Whether you are hosting a holiday dinner or bringing a few dishes to share, you can make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar and calories.

"There are little things we can do to sneak out some calories without really altering the menu or anyone being the wiser. As a general rule of thumb, for a lot of recipes -- casseroles, soups, stews, and the like -- you can cut out about a third of the fat or sugar," she says.

“For example, if your cranberry recipe calls for a cup of sugar, you can probably get away with using only 2/3 cup and no one will be the wiser. If one of your casserole dishes, maybe stuffing, has you sautéing the onions in four tablespoons of butter, it is easy to just use two or three tablespoons instead, or perhaps just steam the onions in broth, to save a lot of calories that will never be noticed in the final product.”

However, she cautions that fat and sugar calories can’t be cut in all recipes. For foods like fine pastries, pie crust and cookies, the amount of fat and sugar can’t be manipulated because the product won’t be tender and flaky. “For those things I would just advise you to enjoy them as they are and really celebrate that holidays are special occasions. And sometimes it’s best just to give ourselves permission to enjoy one slice of pecan pie after the meal with everyone else, and just set out with that goal in mind, to realize that one day is not going to undermine our nutrition,” she says.

Other suggestions for lightening up your holiday cooking include:

  • Using fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Using sugar substitutes in place of sugar and fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reducing oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Trying plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

To inspire you to try and eat a little healthier this holiday season, check out these healthy recipes.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Loaf


  • 1 29-ounce can pure pumpkin (about 1-3/4 cups)
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 egg substitutes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries


Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray six baby loaf pans (about 6 inches long) with cooking spray. In a large bowl, use a whisk to combine pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and vegetable oil. Add dry ingredients, stirring until everything is combined. Stir in nuts and cranberries. Bake at 325°F for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

This is a very moist quick bread. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove to rack and let cool completely before wrapping.

Serves four

Each serving contains about 165 calories, 2 g protein, 6 g fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 24 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, and 130 mg sodium.

Apple Coffee Cake

While most cake recipes are less than healthy, the following recipe is so low in calories and fat that you can make your cake and eat it too. This cake gets its moistness from the apples and raisins, so it requires little oil.


  • 5 cups tart apples, cored, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark, plump raisins
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2½ cups sifted, all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine apples with sugar, raisins, and pecans; mix well. Let stand 30 minutes. Stir in oil, vanilla, and egg. Sift together flour, soda, and cinnamon. Stir into apple mixture about one-third at a time. Turn mixture into pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake slightly before serving.

Makes 20 servings

Each 3½-by-2½-inch serving contains: 241 calories, 5 g fat, 57 mg cholesterol, 273 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrates.

Whole-Grain Party Mix

You can make a healthier party mix by using whole-grain cereals, olive oil instead of butter or margarine, and soy nuts or wasabi peas rather than the usual mixed nuts.


  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons salt-free garlic and herb seasoning
  • 5 cups whole-grain waffle-style cereal
  • 2 cups whole-grain "O" cereal
  • 1 cup unsalted, dry roasted soy nuts
  • 1 cup mini-pretzels (whole wheat is best)


Heat oven to 250 degrees. Pour olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and seasoning into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until cereal, nuts, and pretzels are coated. Bake for an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. Let cool and store in an airtight container.

Serves 20

Each 1/2-cup serving contains about 137 calories, 4 g protein, 6 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, and 160 mg sodium.

Mushroom Crab Appetizer


  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms
  • 8 oz. lump crabmeat
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onions
  • 1 tbsp. skim milk
  • 4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese (Neuchâtel), softened
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley


Brush mushrooms to remove any soil that may be clinging to them. Rinse under cool water and drain. Trim stems and chop finely. Rinse crabmeat and pick over to make sure there are no shells or cartilage.

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add mushrooms and onions. Cook until mushrooms give up moisture and onions are translucent. Add milk and cream cheese and stir until creamy.

Add crabmeat. Stir gently to keep lumps. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Spoon into mini phyllo cups—green spinach ones look especially pretty with the white crab—and serve.

Makes four servings

Each serving of the crab filling contains about 182 calories, 10 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 20 mg cholesterol), 317 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrate, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugars, and 16 g protein.

Options: Garnish with chopped red pepper for extra color or a shot of Tabasco for spiciness.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup


  • 2 or 3 butternut, acorn, or Hubbard squash
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • A few sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and roast cut-side-down with garlic and thyme inside. Roast about 60 minutes or until soft. Scoop out flesh and set aside, along with the garlic and thyme. Add butter to a pan set over medium-high heat; add onions and roasted garlic and saute until soft. Add scooped squash to pan and stir, then add wine to deglaze. Reduce heat slightly and add broth and bay leaf, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and puree in a food processor; season with salt and pepper and cider vinegar to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves four

Each serving contains about 182 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g fat (30 percent calories from fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, and 10 mg sodium. To make this recipe gluten free, use only spices and broth that are gluten free.

Brussels Sprouts with Mushroom Sauce


  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts or broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, or turnips
  • 1 cup chicken broth, low sodium
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms


Trim Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Steam until tender—about six to 10 minutes, or microwave on high for three to four minutes. Bring the broth to a boil in a nonstick pot. Mix in the lemon juice, mustard, and thyme. Add the mushrooms.  Boil until the broth is reduced by half, about five to eight minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts. Toss well to coat with the sauce.

Makes four servings

Each serving contains 70 calories, 1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 85 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, and 4 g protein.

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