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December 5, 2002

How to enjoy holiday food and still eat healthy

It's possible to enjoy the tempting food offerings of the holiday season and still eat healthy, according to a nationally recognized UPMC Health System weight management expert.

Madelyn Fernstrom is the director of the UPMC Health System Weight Management Center and associate director, UPMC Nutrition Center in Pittsburgh. She also is an associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the School of Medicine.

Fernstrom has spent 21 years studying and treating obesity and eating disorders. As a researcher, she is interested in understanding how biological and psychological factors contribute 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.

"Healthy holiday cooking doesn't mean you have to compromise on your favorite foods or flavors," Fernstrom says. "There are a few small and easy steps that can help you keep unwanted pounds off while keeping you in the spirit of the season."

Following are several of Fernstrom's tips to trim the "hidden" fat and calories from holiday dishes:

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

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

* Substitute applesauce for half of the fat called for in a recipe.

* 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 creamy 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 (not non-fat) salad dressings and mayonnaise.

* Look for reduced-fat (not non-fat) cheeses for sauces and toppings.

* Sprinkle a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese on a dish instead of a handful of shredded full-fat cheddar or mozzarella cheese. This provides lots of cheese flavor with almost no fat and few calories.

* Use an oil cooking spray (such as Pam) on the pan before adding oil. This will reduce the oil used, maintain flavor and food won't stick.

* Use a butter spray (such as I Can't Believe It's Not Butter) 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-size cookie cutters.

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

* Make your serving size of baked goods half of what's listed in the recipe.

* Serve small sweet or white baked potatoes and avoid mashing with cream and butter.

* Chew sugarless gum while you cook, so you are not as tempted to sample the fare.

* Make a one-crust pie — no top crust. Try a streusel topping instead.

UPMC Health System Weight Management Center holiday tips

* There are no bad foods — just bad portions. Pre-plan your portion sizes.

* Become a "taster," that is, take a bite, and leave the rest on your plate.

* Maximize your sampling: four bites make an hors d'oeuvre. 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 will keep you filled up enough to maintain control.

* Share an entree with your dining companion. Each order a salad or order two appetizers instead of an entree.

* Share a dessert with at least one other person.

* Limit yourself to one piece of bread or roll. Take the breadbasket off the table if necessary.

* Ask for salad dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing, then scoop up some greens.

* Watch your consumption of rice and pasta. Think of these as a side dish, and add some lean protein while you cut down on the serving size.

* In a restaurant, explain to the server your preference for sauces and dressings to be served on the side, and for meat/chicken/poultry/fish to be grilled without added fat.

* Dilute your entrees and appetizers with grilled or steamed vegetables.

* When at a buffet, cruise up and down the line and pre-plan your eating.

* Try each item, but do not feel obligated to please your host by cleaning your plate.

* Do not refuse food because you're "on a diet." This is the fastest way for people to coerce you into eating more than you would choose.

* Ask for milk instead of cream for your coffee or tea.

* Use eggnog made with reduced fat or skim milk.

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

* If you consume alcohol, limit your intake to one or two servings in an evening. (A serving is a 12-oz. beer, 6-oz. wine, or 1 oz. of hard liquor.)

* Stretch your alcohol calories by selecting non-calorie mixers (diet mixers, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix), or making a wine spritzer with half wine/half sparkling water. Limit your intake to no more than one serving per hour.

* Keep your physical activity up. Instead of napping after a meal, take a 20-40 minute walk. Wherever you are, add extra steps in your day: Get off the elevator sooner than your desired floor and climb the stairs; park far away in the lot and walk to the store.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 8

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