Ho! Ho! Oh! No! ‘Tis the season … for packing on extra weight. Research suggests that holiday weight gain, year after year, can be a big reason the number on your bathroom scale continues to go up, up, up.
Most people put on a pound or two (or three) this time of year, and rarely do they take off any of that holiday weight gain. Do the math: It adds up to an extra 10 to 30 pounds per decade. On average, Americans gain 1.25 pounds a year after age 30, so these yearly holiday pounds are a major cause of the obesity crisis. Other research suggests that if you’re already overweight, you could exit the holidays carrying five extra pounds.
Sure, food deserves its important place at the center of celebrations. We think enjoying your holiday favorites is a great way to reconnect with family traditions and start some new ones, too. Trouble is, high-calorie holiday foods and over-the-top portions spill over, changing the way you eat every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Those cookies your co-workers leave in the coffee room? Those calories add up, perhaps more than you think. So what’s a festive elf to do?
Our weight strategy: Go spicy
For the holidays, you need a unique weight-control strategy, one that lets you celebrate without downsides. So indulge in flavorful favorites like peppermint and chocolate (yes!), citrus, cinnamon and cranberries. They’ll put you in healthy holiday spirits, and help you avoid all those mega-calorie holiday drinks and the candies, pastries and other seasonal fare that turn every pantry, fridge and table into a high-calorie minefield. Here’s how:
1. Shopping pick-me ups Mint plus citrus. Oranges, tangerines and grapefruit were classic stocking stuffers in the 1930s and ‘40s. Bring back the tradition by carrying a piece or two of in-season citrus with you. Pair with a cup of mint tea for a delicious break from shopping, or a snack anytime. Health bonus: You’ll get a booster shot of immune-strengthening vitamin C and compounds in mint that carry antiviral and antibacterial benefits, too.
2. Office snacks Dried cranberries, dark-chocolate chips and walnuts. Pack a zipper-lock snack bag with a mix of these treasures. Keep the overall portion to about ¼ cup in order to control calories. Health bonus: 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate – keep a serving to less than two-thirds of an ounce – lowers the risk of heart disease, according to several recent studies. Walnuts deliver satisfying fiber and good fats, while cranberries contain inflammation-soothing polyphenols.
3. Winter warmers Skinny hot cocoa with cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir cocoa into skim milk, add a pinch of sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. Health bonus: Skim milk provides bone-friendly calcium and muscle-building protein. Studies show that cinnamon helps control blood sugar, and nutmeg may discourage inflammation. And cocoa is heart-friendly and mood-enhancing.
4. A merrier bagged lunch Chicken sandwich with holiday trimmings. Sprinkle a little rubbed sage and a couple of dried cranberries over chicken slices, lettuce and chopped basil on whole-grain bread. Avoid dryness by adding avocado or balsamic vinegar. Health bonus: Sage helps cool inflammation and fuels your body’s cell-protecting antioxidant system.
5. Spicy dinner upgrade Ginger topping. Fresh ginger gives vegetables and main-dish proteins an exotic lift. Its flavor kick makes a spicy substitute for marshmallow topping on yams or a creamy sauce for salmon. Use a grater to add as much as you want to sauteed or steamed vegetables, baked sweet potatoes, grilled salmon or poultry. Health bonus: Ginger delivers inflammation-calming compounds.
6. Comforting breakfast Hot cereal with dried cherries and warm spices. Say “no, thanks” to pastries and “yes, please” to your favorite hot, 100 percent whole-grain cereal, topped with dried fruit, a couple of walnuts and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Health bonus: You’ll feel full and satisfied.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.