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How to control calories over the holidays (yes, it’s possible)


I have six big holiday meals over the next week. How can I keep my calorie intake under control?


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For many of us, food-centred family get-togethers begin tonight and continue though New Year's Day. While some people look forward to indulging in mashed potatoes, stuffing and shortbread, others are concerned about piling on extra calories.

And for good reason. It's easy to consume two days' worth of calories in a single holiday meal (see chart below). If your goal is to keep calories – and your waistline – under control over the next week, you don't need to deprive yourself, but you do need to follow a few tried-and-true strategies.

No doubt you've heard it before, but it's advice worth repeating: Don't skip meals during the day to "bank" your calories for a big holiday meal. This tactic usually backfires, ensuring you arrive at dinner ready to eat everything in sight. You can, however, modify your meals to accommodate for a few extra calories later on. For breakfast on Christmas morning, have only one egg, one slice of toast and go easy on the bacon. Or stick with Greek yogurt, berries and a sprinkle of granola.

At lunch, try a veggie sandwich and soup (save your protein for extra turkey) or a spinach salad with tuna and chickpeas (save some carbohydrate for potatoes and stuffing). You get the picture. They key is to eat nutritious meals during the day.

Eat an afternoon snack. Yogurt and berries, a small handful of nuts and fruit, even a bowl of vegetable soup will take the edge off your appetite and help prevent you from overeating.

If you're entertaining, slim down some of your recipes. Use skim milk in mashed potatoes instead of whole milk or cream; use less butter and add roasted garlic or fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme or chives) for flavour. Moisten stuffing with sodium-reduced chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter.

Cut sugar by one-third in baked-goods recipes. Dilute full fat eggnog with half skim milk.

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To eat smaller portions at your meal, sample a few tablespoons of stuffing, scalloped potatoes or rich desserts rather than have a usual-sized serving.

Eat slowly. Remember it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you've had enough to eat. Take a break halfway through your meal and gauge your hunger level. Eat until you feel comfortable, not stuffed.

Downsizing portions will also make you less likely to want to nap after dinner. It's unlikely that tryptophan (an amino acid) in turkey causes drowsiness after a holiday meal. (To achieve this effect, tryptophan has to be consumed on an empty stomach.) Feeling sleepy is more likely due to the energy it takes your body to digest an oversized meal; the sedating effect of alcohol plays a role, too.

Don't let tempting leftovers linger. Package snack foods like nuts, chips and pretzels into snack-sized resealable bags; limit yourself to one per day. Grate leftover cheese and freeze it for later use in pastas, casseroles and baking. Deal with leftover sweets by making dessert bags for guests to take home.

Don't forget many traditional holiday foods are good for you and should be enjoyed. Turkey breast is a nutritious, lean protein choice; three ounces delivers 25 grams of protein and less than 2 grams of fat. Cranberry sauce offers fibre, vitamin C and potassium, and is loaded with antioxidants that help protect against urinary tract infections, gum disease, ulcers and possibly heart disease.

Sweet potatoes provide low glycemic carbohydrate and three days' worth of beta-carotene. Gingerbread is low in fat and also a source of iron, thanks to the molasses added in baking. Even one cup of eggnog provides one-third of your daily calcium and half a day's worth of vitamin B12.

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So enjoy. Christmas with all its delicious trimmings comes once a year. If you eat moderately and mindfully, chances are you'll start the New Year with no more than a few bills to work off.

Charting the feast

Before Dinner Munchies

Honey roasted peanuts, ½ cup: 456

4 crackers with 2 oz. cheese: 145

Traditional eggnog, 1 cup: 361

The Meal

Turkey, light and dark meat w/skin, 6 oz.: 376

Mashed potato w/butter, ½ cup: 124

Candied yams, ½ cup: 105

Traditional bread stuffing, ¾ cup: 375

Green beans with 1 tsp. butter, ½ cup: 96

Cranberry sauce, ¼ cup: 108

Gravy, ¼ cup: 124

Roll with 2 tsp. butter: 157

White wine, two 5 oz. glasses: 240

1 slice pecan pie with whipped cream: 658

Liqueur, 2 oz.: 206

Grand Total: 3,531 calories

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