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Published November 22, 2011, 12:00 AM

Keeping the holiday healthier: Small changes can make a big difference

GRAND FORKS – After enrolling in a once-a-week weight loss program, one Grand Forks woman has the skinny on how to stay healthy and fit during the holiday.

By: By Katie Ryan-Anderson, Forum Communications Co.

GRAND FORKS – After enrolling in a once-a-week weight loss program, one Grand Forks woman has the skinny on how to stay healthy and fit during the holiday.

In April 2010 Kathie Howes, an accountant at University of North Dakota, enrolled in a local Weight Watchers group. She and the group meet weekly. Group members share recipes and lifestyle tips, like how to withstand temptation at Thanksgiving.

“We give each other ideas of how to survive the holiday,” she said.

Eleven months and 60 pounds later, Howes reached her goal weight.

Howes said she survived the holidays last year and is confident she can enjoy the upcoming holidays, too, without overindulging. She’s planning a traditional meal with a few tweaks: like a pumpkin pie, but without the crust.

“I’m not nervous about it this year. I know how to be prepared for it,” she said.

Like many Americans, Howes watches what she eats throughout the holidays and tries to cut out calories when she can.

The average American gains about a pound during the winter holiday season, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The finding runs contrary to popular belief that most people gain 5 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Although the findings show weight gain throughout the holidays isn’t as extreme, it can contribute to other health concerns later in life as it accumulates.

But experts agree Thanksgiving guests and hosts don’t need to re-invent the winter squash to keep the pounds off this holiday season.

“I don’t try to make it a diet meal because I know that everyone really enjoys it and looks forward to it,” said Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo.

Garden-Robinson said in one Thanksgiving meal alone, a person can consume more than 2,000 calories, which to maintain his or her weight is what an average person should consume in a whole day.

She recommended recipe modifications like skim milk instead of cream and serving a vegetable tray, green salad or broth-based soup before the meal.

Both the host and the guest have a responsibility to serve healthy dishes and then not to eat too much of them, Garden-Robinson said.

At her house, she and her family skip dessert and take a walk after the meal. They save the pie for later in the afternoon when guests’ bellies start rumbling for a snack.

Howes’ methods are also subtle.

From her Weight Watchers support group, she learned to set up a buffet in the kitchen instead of on the table. That way, she and her guests eat in the dining room to avoid second helpings. Howes said she sets the table with smaller plates to reduce portion sizes, and eats a light breakfast in the morning followed by a small snack before the big meal.

Calories aren’t the only concern for some celebrating the holiday.

Although many of the patients at Eventide at Hi-Acres nursing home in Jamestown have special dietary needs, residents there eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. On holidays like Thanksgiving, residents get to celebrate the way most everyone else does. That’s important to the residents’ well-being and overall quality of life, said Kim Wiese, licensed registered dietitian at Eventide at Hi-Acres.

Some residents may test higher for blood sugar or other indicators later in the day, Wiese said, but in the more than 20 years the nursing home has furnished traditional holiday dinners, no resident or family member has complained.

Many families stop by to see their loved ones at the nursing home, and eat their traditional Thanksgiving meal there, too, said Deb Haggart, cook.

“It’s just like going home to Grandma’s but they come here,” she said.

The enjoy-it-once-in-a-while attitude toward the holidays isn’t a bad idea, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator at Central Valley Health in Jamestown.

Iszler suggested cutting back on calories the week before Thanksgiving so celebrants can enjoy without worry the day of.

To cut back, drink water instead of sugary or alcoholic beverages and if you’re traveling, pack healthy meals instead of stopping for convenience items or fast food, Iszler said. If you’re nervous about the dishes available at the Thanksgiving gathering, she suggested bringing a healthy side to share.

Too much turkey, however, doesn’t require the health conscious to scrap their diets.

Howes said she occasionally slips too.

“It happens, that’s life. And no, I don’t beat myself up about it,” she said.

When to modify recipes

Many of our favorite holiday recipes contain higher amounts of fat, cholesterol and/or sugar than do everyday foods. And while the holidays are a time for special treats, there are also some proven ways to modify recipes without losing taste. Consider the following before making any changes to that family heritage recipe.

- Is the recipe already low in fat, cholesterol, sugar or salt?

If so, only minor or no changes may be needed. If a recipe calls for one egg and the dish serves eight people, the amount of cholesterol per serving already is relatively low.

- How often is the food eaten?

It is not as important to modify a recipe for a dish eaten once or twice a year as it is for foods eaten more often. It is more important to cut the fat in a weekly tuna fish salad sandwich than it is to cut the fat in a birthday cake.

- How much of the food is eaten?

Sometimes the best way to modify the intake of a certain food is to eat less of it. Decreasing the quantity eaten may be more satisfying than decreasing the quality. Many people prefer to eat less real jam or jelly than to eat the regular amount of a low-sugar jam.

Here are a few ways to update recipes. These suggestions apply to most foods except when specific proportions of ingredients are essential to prevent spoilage (such as cured meats, pickles, jams and jellies).

Decrease total fat and calories

- Reduce fat by one-fourth to one-third in baked products. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup hydrogenated shortening, try Xc cup oil. This works best in quick breads, muffins and cookies.

- In recipes such as muffins and snack cakes, try replacing half to all of the fat with prune puree, low-fat yogurt or unsweetened applesauce. The pectin in these “fat replacers” helps hold the product together and gives the mouth-feel of fat. Because they add sugar calories, you also may want to decrease the added sugar by one-fourth.

- Cut back or even eliminate added fat in casseroles and main dishes. For example, browning meat in added fat is unnecessary because some fat will drain from the meat as it cooks. Using a microwave oven, nonstick pan or cooking spray are also ways to reduce the need for more fat.

- Sauté or stir-fry vegetables with little fat or use water, wine or broth.

- To thicken sauces and gravies without lumping, eliminate fat and mix cornstarch or flour with a small amount of cold liquid. Stir this mixture slowly into the hot liquid to be thickened and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Add herbs, spices and flavorings.

- Chill soups, gravies and stews; skim off hardened fat before reheating to serve.

- Select lean cuts of meat and trim off visible fat. Remove skin from poultry before cooking.

- Bake, broil, grill, poach or microwave meat, poultry or fish instead of frying.

- Decrease the proportion of oil in homemade salad dressings. Try one-third oil to two-thirds vinegar. Low-fat cottage cheese or buttermilk seasoned with herbs and spices also makes a low-fat dressing.

- Use reduced-calorie sour cream or mayonnaise. To reduce fat further, use plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt, buttermilk or blended cottage cheese instead of regular sour cream or mayonnaise for sauces, dips and salad dressings. If you heat a sauce made with yogurt, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of yogurt to prevent separation.

- Use fat-free low-fat milk instead of whole milk. For extra richness, try evaporated fat-free milk.

- Choose low-fat cheeses such as feta, neufchatel and mozzarella instead of high-fat ones such as Swiss or cheddar.

Decrease saturated fat and cholesterol

- Use two egg whites or an egg substitute product instead of one whole egg. In some recipes, simply decrease the total number of eggs. This is especially true if the fat and sugar also are decreased in the recipe.

- Use margarine instead of butter. Look for margarines that contain no trans fats and list liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.

- Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To substitute liquid oil for solid fats, use about one-fourth less than the recipe calls for. For example, if a recipe calls for ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of solid fat, use 3 tablespoons of oil. For cakes or pie crusts, use a recipe that specifically calls for oil, because liquid fats require special mixing procedures.

Decrease sugar

- Reduce sugar by one-quarter to one-third in baked goods and desserts. Add extra spice or flavoring to enhance impression of sweetness. This works best with quick breads, cookies, pie fillings, custard, puddings and fruit crisps.

- Decrease or eliminate sugar when canning or freezing fruits. Buy unsweetened frozen fruit or fruit canned in its own juice or water.

- In cookies, bars and cakes, replace one-quarter of the sugar called for with an equal amount of nonfat dry milk. This reduces calories and increases calcium, protein and riboflavin in the recipe.

- Choose fruit juices, club soda or skim milk over soft drinks and punches. Make fruit juice coolers with equal parts fruit juice and club soda or seltzer.

- Nonsugar sweeteners can replace part or all of the sugar in many recipes. However, most have limitations. Aspartame (Equal®) will not work well in products that are cooked or baked. Saccharin can be used in hot and cold foods but may leave a bitter aftertaste. Sucralose is heat stable, but works better in recipes like pies and quick breads where sugar is primarily used to provide sweetness rather than texture, volume and browning. In such cases, using a sucralose blend made from half sugar and half sucralose may work.

Source: Brenda Langerud Ramsey County, North Dakota State Extension Service

Katie Ryan-Anderson writes for the Jamestown Sun