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November 22, 2006

Tips for holiday fare keep you in control

It is possible to enjoy the tempting offerings of the holiday season and still manage one’s weight, according to nutrition and weight management expert Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the UPMC Weight Management Center.

“Healthy holiday cooking doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your favorite foods or flavors,” Fernstrom said. “There are some small and easy steps that can help you keep unwanted pounds off while keeping you in the spirit of the season. With a little pre-planning, you can stay in control while enjoying your holiday eating and keeping your activity level up.”

Fernstrom’s tips for trimming hidden fat and calories in foods include:

• Substitute low-fat (not non-fat) sour cream or yogurt in dips.

• Use condensed skim milk, 2 percent or whole milk instead of half-and-half or cream.

• Replace half of the fat called for in a recipe with applesauce.

• Avoid recipes with “extra rich” in the name — this always means more fat added.

• Refrigerate chicken- or beef-based soups overnight, and skim the hardened fat off the top.

• Thicken gravy with tapioca (mixed with a little water) instead of butter or margarine.

• Stick with clear soups. For a great “cream” soup, add milk or condensed skim milk instead of cream.

• Cook poultry with the skin on, and then remove it before eating. This keeps the meat moist.

• Use reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise.

• Look for reduced-fat cheeses for sauces and toppings.

• Sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese instead of a handful of shredded full-fat cheddar or mozzarella cheese.

• Use an oil cooking spray on the pan instead of adding oil.

• Use a butter spray to coat vegetables before serving, instead of butter or margarine.

• Add raisins, dried cranberries and pretzel sticks to a bowl of shelled nuts to reduce both calories and fat.

• Use small cookie cutters.

• Top a cake with powdered sugar, cinnamon or cocoa instead of a thick frosting.

• Make the serving size of baked goods half of what’s listed in the recipe.

• Serve small baked potatoes — sweet or white — and avoid mashing with cream and butter. Keep the “fixins” on the side.

• Chew sugarless gum while you cook.

• Make a one-crust pie or try a streusel topping instead.

Fernstrom’s tips for managing weight while dining away from home include:

• Pre-plan portion sizes.

• Become a “taster” — take a bite, and leave the rest of it on your plate.

• Maximize your sampling. “Four bites make an hors d’oeuvre,” Fernstrom said. “Take one bite of four different types, and you have variety while saving calories.”

• Don’t go to a party overly hungry; a small non-fat sugar-free yogurt or a cup of a clear soup beforehand helps maintain control.

• Share an entree with a dining companion. Each diner should order a salad or clear soup first.

• Order two appetizers instead of an entree.

• Share a dessert with at least one other person.

• Stay away from breads and rolls. Take the basket off the table if necessary.

• Always ask for salad dressing on the side. Dip a fork in the dressing and scoop up some greens.

• Watch the consumption of rice and pasta. “You should think of these as a ‘side dish,’ and add some lean protein while you cut down on the serving size,” Fernstrom said.

• In a restaurant, request that sauces and dressings be served on the side, and that meat/chicken/poultry/fish be grilled without added fat.

• “Dilute” the entrees and appetizers with grilled or steamed vegetables.

• When at a buffet, cruise up and down the line and pre-plan the choices.

• Do not feel obligated to please the host by eating everything on the plate. “Try each item, and if pressed, simply say you are saving room for the next course,” Fernstrom recommended.

• Do not refuse food because you are “on a diet.” “This is the fastest way for people to coerce you into eating more than you would choose,” Fernstrom said.

• Ask for milk instead of cream for coffee or tea.

• Limit the consumption of eggnog to that made with reduced fat or skim milk.

• Cut the calories in fruit juices by making a spritzer — half juice/half sparkling water.

• When consuming alcohol, limit the intake to one or two servings in an evening, (a serving is 12 ounces of beer, 6 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of hard liquor). Reduce alcohol calories by selecting non-calorie or low-calorie mixers (diet mixers, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix), or making a wine spritzer with half wine, half sparkling water. Limit alcohol intake to no more than one serving per hour.

• Keep physical activity up. Instead of napping after a meal, take a 20-40 minute walk. Add extra steps to the day: Get off the elevator a flight or two lower than the intended floor and climb the stairs. Walk up an escalator. Park far away in the lot and walk to the store.

Fernstrom has spent the past 24 years studying nutrition and treating obesity. A recognized expert in the field of appetite and weight control, her research has focused on the biological and psychological factors contributing to weight loss. As a clinician, she views obesity as a chronic disease that can be managed, but not cured, through lifestyle change, pharmacotherapy and, in some cases, surgery.

For more information on weight management, visit the UPMC Weight Management Center at

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 7

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