When an average slice of pumpkin pie and scoop of vanilla ice cream can contain 46 grams of sugar – nearly twice the recommended daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women and well above the recommendation of 36 grams for men– the holidays can be hazardous for anyone watching their waistlines.
Sweets are never more available and tempting than during the holiday season, but with some healthy swaps and strategies, Shreela Sharma, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental at UTHealth School of Public Health, says it's easy to eat healthier this holiday season.
- When preparing desserts, substitute whole-wheat flour instead of regular flour in a recipe to make it healthier, or use ½ regular and ½ whole-wheat if you want to ease into it.
- Mashed bananas and applesauce make great substitutions for fat in a recipe. Natural sweeteners such as shredded carrots, zucchini or beets can also be incorporated into recipes so you won't need to use as much sugar.
- Prepare small desserts such as mini-cheesecakes or mini-cupcakes to help with portion control.
- Always have some berries as a side with your dessert – they're naturally filling and you won't be as tempted to eat as much dessert.
- Don't starve yourself or skip a meal in anticipation of a holiday party feast later in the day. Sharma says it's counterintuitive to how the body works. Your body is genetically programmed to pack on weight and will enter starvation mode. It will hold on to every calorie and you're going to end up packing on more weight. It's better to keep to your usual eating schedule – stay away from yo-yo dieting.
- To prevent overeating, make sure you eat something filling before going to a party so you don't arrive with an empty stomach. Sharma suggests a slice of whole-grain toast with almond or peanut butter.
- If you have a special dietary restriction or a health condition that prohibits you from eating certain foods, let the host of your party know ahead of time. Generally, they will accommodate you because they want you to have a good time. If not, you ate that toast ahead of time, right?
- Holidays can be a stressful time, which can result in eating more food. Instead, try to deal with stress by going for a walk each day or do something that helps manage your stress like yoga or meditation.
The most important thing, Sharma stresses, is to eat what you want in moderation. She advises that if you have a craving, you should fulfill it because the craving only gets worse.
"Denying ourselves food groups never works," said Sharma, who is also a faculty member in the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the School of Public Health. "Food is not the enemy – it's such an important part of who we are and our social lives. It's portioning that's the big trick."
If you remember to eat in moderation, then you can enjoy anything from an appetizer to your favorite holiday dessert, guilt-free.