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The holidays are upon us and that means food - often lots of it. While I do believe that the holidays can be a time to splurge, this doesn't give you a license to gorge between Thanksgiving and New Years'.
One of the places to be especially cautious is at the holiday party. It's one thing to be excessive when you know exactly what you're eating, but when someone else is doing the cooking you can pack on the calories in a hurry. On top of that, a lot of us go to parties instead of dinner and we go hungry.
Have an apple or a handful of nuts. Studies have shown that when we “pre-eat” before meals we eat a lot less food. If you're starving when you get to that party you won't even think about what you're eating until you've scarfed down a few hundred calories.
Don't walk around and nibble.
Get a plate, put your food on it, and eat from the plate. You'll know how much food you have taken and are a lot less likely to eat more food than you want or need. Select a small plate and fill it no more than twice. Take a break between each of those plates to give yourself time to feel satisfied: you are likely to eat less.
So… what to put on that plate? If there are roasted meats, help yourself: they're usually lean and really tasty. Studies show that a little protein with your carbohydrates helps you feel more satisfied, and you'll find yourself eating less. Shrimp cocktail is a fine choice for the same reason – the shrimp is lower in calories than those fried foods (as is the cocktail sauce). Take all the veggies that you want - they're fantastic for you and will help fill you up on great tasting food. There's always some dip to go with them, but go easy as they can have a lot of added calories (or have some more cocktail sauce). Put a couple of spoonfuls of dip on your plate and dip from there.
Nuts are always a good choice as a snack, and this is especially true at the cocktail party. They're filling, good for you and taste great. When I'm giving talks I'm always asked which nuts people should choose. My answer? "Nuts." Any nuts as long as they're not coated in something (like those sugared nuts that are so popular at the holidays). No salt is best, but salted is fine. Eat what you like and enjoy!
The nice thing about many parties is that the desserts have been laid out in bite sizes. If there are desserts, take a small piece and enjoy it. This is another good place to use a plate. Make a trip to the dessert table, put a few on your plate and enjoy! (Then stop.)
There are lots of simple ways to avoid packing on the extra calories. The converse of this is that there are many ways to get extra calories without really trying.
Don't put anything on your plate that's been fried.
Steer clear of savory pastries: just one of those little pigs in a blanket can be up to 150 calories and that's in a single bite or two. You can eat a plate full of shrimp and not get as many calories. Those little mini-quiches and other pastries are just as chock full of fat and calories.
I always talk about nuts because they're so good for you, while all those crackers, chips and pretzels are empty calories. Avoid the junk food and stick to real food like nuts.
If there are more "heavy" hors d'oeuvres they can be a fair substitute for dinner, but choose those items in the section above. Often those chafing dishes are filled with foods that are heavily sauced. Put the lid back and move on.
For a lot of folks alcohol is part of the party, especially at the holidays. Drink if you wish, but don't drink on an empty stomach. Have at least a plate of veggies with some dip first, then get a glass of wine, remembering that a 5-ounce glass of wine is about 125 calories and an ounce of liquor is about 75 calories. Limit your alcohol consumption at parties - it will help if you have a glass of water or other non-alcoholic beverage in between drinks. Too much alcohol can disinhibit you and you might be likely to eat more.
If you like eggnog, do be careful. A single cup can have as much as 400 calories and 20 grams of fat, so it's best to have a few sips and go back to your wine.
You can have a great holiday, eat well and eat healthy between the big days of Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Just choose your party plate with care and enjoy!
Here are some healthier appetizer ideas for your holiday party:
Shrimp and Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers
Roasted Garlic Mushroom Hors d'oeuvres
Shrimp Cocktail Bites - Hors d'oeuvres
Prosciutto Wrapped Figs
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP