It seems like only this week when the temperatures were balmy enough for a walk in the park, a bike ride, an outdoor barbecue.
OK, they were. This November week has been a rarity weather-wise in Western New York.
But make no mistake, the holiday season is fast approaching. Brace yourself for lots of demands on your time and pocketbook – and plenty of opportunities to pack on weight.
“I like to remind people that holidays are one day. It’s Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day,” Mallary Whipple said. “It’s fine and expected, and worthwhile, to deviate a little bit from more balanced eating on those particular days.”
The problem is there are 36 other days between Thanksgiving and the new year.
Whipple, a registered dietitian and Buffalo division nutritionist with Wegmans, understands the bustle and culinary temptations that come with the season. She and her husband, dentist Matt Whipple, have challenging jobs and an 18-month-old daughter, Evelyn.
Their goal this holiday season: bring nutrition, variety and balance to their food choices.
The good news for the Whipples and those similarly inclined: Cornell University researchers reported earlier this fall that the typical holiday season weight gain may amount to just a pound or two.
Their study of nearly 3,000 people also contained a couple of holiday humbugs. The most dangerous period looks to be the last week of the year, when someone who weighs 150 pounds will gain an average of 1 pound; someone 200 pounds, an average of 1.4 pounds. Researchers also said roughly half of weight gained during the holidays typically remains for five or more months afterward.
Why take a chance with those numbers? Here are some ways to maintain your weight while enjoying the holidays.
1. Eat the right mix
Vegetables, fruits and salad should fill half of a meal plate, Whipple said. “In a perfect world, that other half is going to be a whole grain and a protein. This is really easy portion control and is a good reminder about balance.” She recommended following this benchmark for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and with second helpings and snacks.
2. Add color
Whipple and Nicole Klem, director of the Trocaire College Nutrition and Dietetics Program in Lancaster, recommended you focus your grocery shopping in the produce and frozen food sections. “As a general rule of thumb, the more color, the more nutritious,” Whipple said. Klem fixed her food designs on roasted squash, citrus fruits and sweet potatoes during a visit earlier this week to the Wegmans Amherst Street store. Whipple bestowed the benefits of fruits and vegetables that are picked, cleaned and frozen this time of year, which helps preserve their nutritional value and makes for key ingredients for quick quiches, casseroles, soups or standalone dishes. You want them unsweetened, unflavored and unsauced, she said. Add spices at home.
3. Go nuts
Nuts are good choices for recipes and snacks anytime of year because they’re packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and plant-based protein, Whipple said. Walnuts in particular are a good source of omega-3s, Klem said (see related story, Page 4). Their fiber can leave a more lasting feel of fullness, too, but beware the portion size because the healthy fats in nuts also add calories. A cupped handful of walnuts – the recommended daily ¼ cup – runs about 130 calories.
4. Seek store cues
Wegmans brand foods that tend to be more nutritious carry a yellow banner with the words, “Food you can feel good about” or a green “organic” logo. These foods have no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors, no high-fructose corn syrup and no trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils. Meat and dairy products with these labels were not treated with antibiotics or given hormones. The same goes for foods with an organic logo, which also attests to a product being produced without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMOs.
Brands include as many as 14 wellness keys that let shoppers know, among other things, if a food may contain food allergens, is gluten-free, lactose-free or vegan. Tops Markets also labels its organic brands.
5. Read labels
“It’s recommended that everybody limit their saturated fat intake,” Whipple said. Many also look to avoid trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils, as well as foods high in sugar or with artificial flavors. Foods with 5 grams or more of fiber generally are preferable to those with less, Klem said. Low-fat items have less than 5 percent fat in their contents; high-fat foods top 20 percent. All of this information can be found on a food label.
6. Portion size matters
“Picking good foods is great but you can enjoy the holidays if you keep moderate portion sizes,” Klem said. Food labels are key here, too.
7. Limit sweets
Sugars – and processed foods loaded with simple carbohydrates – are quickly absorbed in the digestive tract and pushed into the bloodstream. A feeling of hunger can remain as blood sugar levels spike, sapping you of energy. Over time, these eating choices pack on weight and raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. “Sugar should be limited,” said Whipple, who stopped adding sugar to her diet three years ago. The American Heart Association urges women to have no more than 24 grams of added sugar a day – about six teaspoons. For men, it’s 36 grams, or 9 teaspoons.
8. Crowd in better food
“Pick and choose what’s important,” Whipple said. “If you have a favorite appetizer, enjoy that appetizer guilt-free but don’t just mindlessly eat cheese and crackers.” Citrus, including pomegranate, are in season, as are root vegetables, Klem said. Lean or plant-based proteins and whole grains with more than 5 grams of fiber also make good choices because they have more nutrients, take longer to digest and keep you feeling full longer, Klem said. “If you’re truly looking for the best bread choice, it has to say 100 percent whole wheat,” Whipple said because blended grain and white breads have much or all of their nutrients stripped away during food processing.
Food substitutions also help. “When I think about healthy baking and substitutions, applesauce is generally my go-to as far as lightening up a recipe and reducing some of the fat from the oil and the butter,” Klem said. “It’s easy to buy no-sugar, straight applesauce. You can add your own cinnamon. Now is also the time to pick up some apples at the grocery store or farmers market and make some of your own.” Maple syrup also can be used in recipes that call for sugar.
9. Snack well
“You’re not looking for a chocolate-covered whatever,” Klem said. “You’re looking for the fruit and nut bar.” Added Whipple, “Every time we’re eating something, there should be a fruit or vegetable for the fiber but also some type of a protein. Hopefully, it’s a plant-based protein – your nuts, your seeds, your beans.”
Yogurt is another great choice. “It’s also a good baking substitute,” said Klem, who uses Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to top potatoes and tacos. Coffee, lemon and plain Greek yogurt tend to contain little or no sugar, she said. She and Whipple recommended buying plain yogurt and adding fruit, honey or jam or jelly with no sugar added. They also seek brands that include prebiotics and probiotics, or live cultures.
Remember calories and portion sizes while snacking. A quarter cup of granola makes for a 140-calorie snack. A half cup counts for 280 calories; a full cup for whopping 560 calories. A 1-ounce serving of Lay’s potato chips – 15 chips in all – has 16 percent of the daily recommended value of fat, including 10 percent of unhealthy saturated fat. Does your 16-ounce bag last you for 16 servings?
10. Drink smart
“Water is the best option there is and seltzer water is another great option,” Whipple said. “You can add fruit or fresh pressed juice for an extra splash of flavor. It’s all right to celebrate with beer, wine, liquor. It’s just making the smart choices in between.” She keeps infused water out at parties throughout the year. “People drink it. They will moderate themselves if you make it easy.”
11. Go prepared
Eat before you go food shopping, to the mall or a holiday get-together to limit poor food choices. Offer to bring your favorite lower-calorie appetizers to parties you attend. “That will help promote healthy holiday eating, and may even become a staple at your table each year,” said Kelly Hahl, manager of health and wellness programs at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. Wegmans has a variety of nutritious ideas at wegmans.com in its recipe section. Topsmarkets.com has healthy and diabetic friendly categories on its recipe section, as well.
“A lesson Nikki and I share is that all foods can fit,” Whipple said. “If you walk into one of our kitchens, you’re going to see all of these tips we’re sharing. But you’re also going to see blue corn chips and maple syrup. It’s a matter of balance, variety and moderation. Those are the three takeaways that people can try to follow during the holidays. If you’re getting that, you can have a pretty happy and healthy holiday season.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon
Coming next week: How exercise can help brighten your holidays