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Make healthy holiday nutrition choices, starting with Halloween

When it comes to weight gain, we are about to enter the danger zone.

Halloween is the first obstacle in these parts when it comes to greater eating and drinking temptations. Coupled with temperatures that are about to sink, and you have a combination that's enough to make the health-conscious scream.

Want better health and a better weight? Cut down on sugar, fat

"It sounds like an oxymoron but we can approach this time of year without feeling like we're the witch," said Patricia Salzer, a registered dietitian and workplace wellness consultant with Univera Healthcare. "It's about balance, and setting a good example for your family."

Salzer provided the following tips to avoid having to buy your loved ones – or worse, you! – new pants with elastic waistlines for Christmas.


Halloween can launch the weight climb, whether it's a holiday gathering or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, Salzer said.

When handing out treats

Take a healthier approach. Instead of passing out traditional candy, hand out fruit and nut bars, granola bars, pretzels, microwave or popped popcorn, raisins or nuts (take care with the little ones and those with food allergies). Stickers, balls, toothbrushes, bubbles, small note pads, bracelets and pens are among the fun, nonfood options.

When the kids get home

"We realize that not everybody in the neighborhood is going to hand out healthy treats," Salzer said. "That's OK. We live in such a food-oriented society that we can't always protect children from poor eating choices, so Halloween becomes a good teaching moment."

She recommended kids separate Halloween candy into three piles: "Yes," "Maybe"  and "No." Get rid of the "No" pile immediately and allow your child a moderate amount of treats from the Yes pile Halloween night as the days go on. You also can consider an occasional treat from the "Maybe" pile – say a miniature candy bar.

"You don't want to deprive children of treats," Salzer said. "That will make them more appealing. After a while, however, that 'Maybe' pile might not be as appealing.

"With the miniature bars, I do have a word of caution," she added. We think, 'Oh, they're so small, I'll have one more.' But all those servings of miniatures can add up." When you dole out those treats, keep the wrappers as a reminder of how many your kids – and you – have eaten.

Set limits for yourself, too, Salzer said. "Be mindful with your eating and set that good example – whether it's the candy or the 'healthier' options, "because too many pretzels or granola bars still can add up to be too many calories. When we give some foods a "halo effect," we think, "It's good for me, so I can overeat."

Peter Kates, spokesman for Univera, also discourages adults from bringing the "No" candy into the workplace. "There are people who sit around their dinner table and say, 'You know who's weak? Everyone I work with,'" Kates said. You know where that processed food really belongs. Toss them.


Seltzer or water should be an important choice available at holiday parties. Try fruit slices to add some extra taste. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Kids and grown-ups alike will be inundated with food choices at gatherings that will linger until the Super Bowl and Valentine's Day. The near-relentless pace of the season also will strain the ability to maintain a robust fitness schedule. Salzer and Kates recommended the following simple steps to address the changing climate.

1. Have a plan: "When you do go to a holiday party, don't go too hungry because you're willpower goes out the window," Salzer said. First have a healthy snack – "apples are so good right now" – and a slice of cheese. Once you arrive at a gathering, survey the food choices before you eat. Pick a few reasonable foods you can enjoy without overindulging.

2. Enjoy the company: "Socializing and talking is calorie-free," Salzer said. Think about the focus of the event. Is it to overeat or have a good time?

3. Watch where you stand: Chat with your loved ones and acquaintances away from the buffet table.

4. Combine social and physical activities: This is Buffalo. We're rarely afraid of the weather. We're used to it. Get outside for fresh air – to walk or jog, and as winter descends, to ski, snowshoe or ice skate. And don't let social activities get in the way of your fitness routine. "Your workout is your time out," Salzer said. "It's the time you can be the best you can be. I've never gone to an exercise class and said afterward, 'I wish I had not done that.' There are days I didn't go and thought, 'I wish I went.' " Sometimes the hardest part is showing up. Holiday season can be stressful, so how better to deal with stress by building a healthy body and a healthy mind and spirit, and getting in that physical 'therapy' that will help you feel so much better?"

5. Schedule workouts: "Make it a commitment. Make it an appointment," Salzer said. "You're probably not going to miss dinner reservations, so view your workout the same way." Kates recommended keeping a paper copy of your holiday schedule that includes your workout days, and checking them off as you accomplish them – as a way to look back on New Year's Day and feel you've taken some control during the holiday season. Salzer also recommended finding an "accountability partner" who helps keep you motivated and on track.

6. Enjoy the holidays in moderation: "We tend to make a holiday, holi-DAYS," Salzer said. "Enjoy those favorite foods that are part of your family tradition but then get right back on track."

7. Give the gift of health: Consider gifts that include healthy cooking classes, fitness classes or massages. Find gifts that make it easier to cook and exercise the mind and body at home, Kates said.

8. Think how you drink: "Let's say at a party you like to have something to drink in your hand," Salzer said. "Instead of always having that wine glass, maybe you alternate with seltzer. And soda is like liquid candy, so if kids are having Halloween candy and drinking a soda, that is so much sugar. Water is always the best beverage, the best choice, and there's so many good ways to flavor it. Put in orange, lemon, lime or cucumber slices. When you host a party, serve fruit- and herb-infused waters. If you have them in a nice glass, it makes you feel good, and it really does help slow down the alcohol and calorie consumption. When we drink our calories, we're not as satisfied, so we still want to eat, we still want to chew, and we tend to forget those calories that come in a liquid form."

Advanced planning, with mindful eating and drinking, is a great way to end the year – not just start it, Salzer said, and will make for a happier segue into 2018.

"You don't have to wait until New Year's Day to make a resolution," she said. "Any day is a good day to make your health a priority."


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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