Ah, the holidays. Visions of sugarplums, cookie exchanges, and company parties dance in our heads. Trouble is, we often find ourselves with several post-holiday pounds dancing around our hips. Research has shown that the average person gains nearly seven pounds between Halloween and New Year's Day.
But, you don't have to entirely give up your holiday favorites, including delicious desserts, in order to lighten up the season. There are a few simple ways to indulge without guilt.
Simple changes to your dessert recipes, for instance, can significantly reduce fat and calories—while keeping all the flavor.
Use egg substitutes, available at your grocery store, or egg whites only (two whites per whole egg in recipe), to reduce fat and cholesterol.
Try a fruit puree such as applesauce, apple butter, or prune puree instead of oil when baking. These fruit purees contain cellulose, a natural vegetable fiber that traps moisture in your breads, cakes, and muffins. You can substitute half—or more—of the fat, this way.
Cut back on sugar in pies. Nutritionists say that most pie recipes contain much more sugar than needed. Try cutting back by half, and see if you're pleased with the results. Or use a commercial sugar-substitute.
If you're worried that holiday guests may detect your changes, test your recipes beforehand, so you can make sure that they taste just as delicious as the original versions. Change only one ingredient at a time, so you know which changes you like best. And to avoid sampling while creating your goodies, it's best to do your baking after a meal, when you're not hungry.
The holidays, while a time to celebrate traditions, also are an excellent opportunity to create healthy new habits. Introduce more fruit-based desserts, such as warm fruits topped with fat-free whipped topping or drizzled with fat-free chocolate sauce. Use only a bottom crust on pies, rather than a top as well. Make cakes without the frosting, or reduce the amount of frosting.
The preponderance of holiday parties means we don't always have control over the types of foods available. The trick here is to cut back on your portions.
If you're at a dessert buffet, and you see several desserts that are your favorites, take only a sliver of each, so you're not eating three whole desserts. If you're having pie, don't eat all the crust. Avoid any desserts that even look rich, such as cheesecakes.
Stick near the fresh fruit platter—and stay away from alcohol, which is full of empty, non-nutritious calories. Fill up, instead, on healthier foods such as turkey, lean cuts of beef, and vegetables.
Eat before going to the party. If you're somewhat full, you won't be "picking" on the buffet.
Finally, find a way to add healthy foods at the party. Ask the host or hostess if you may contribute a dessert. Then, bring one of your low-fat, light, and healthy desserts.
Health experts say you shouldn't get overly concerned if you don't lose weight over the holidays; you'll be ahead of the game if you simply don't gain. Therefore, don't set unrealistic weight-loss goals.
Focus, instead, on the joys of the season: spending time with friends and family, and showing them you appreciate them. Plan some healthy family activities, such as a game of touch football, ice-skating, or an evening walk to work off dessert. At parties, mingle and converse, rather than sticking by the food table. Wait for about 20 minutes after a meal before deciding to eat dessert; your blood sugar will have increased after the meal, decreasing your craving for sweets.
Keep in mind that your friends and family may be just as conscious about their eating habits and weight control, this time of year. By offering healthy alternatives, you can feel good about what you're serving.
General recipe modification tips:
Use nonstick cooking spray to grease the pan when cooking and baking.
Use heart-healthy fats, rather than butter or shortening, for baking.
Use 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to replace 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate.
Use an equal amount of marshmallow creme in frostings to substitute for butter or margarine.
Try finely crushed cinnamon graham crackers instead of traditional piecrusts.
Use two egg whites instead of one whole egg when baking.
Use equal amounts of applesauce or baby food prunes to replace oil.
Use equal amounts of fat-free plain yogurt to replace sour cream.