Love this festive time of year, but loathe what it does to your waistline? All is not lost. Eating healthy during the holidays doesn't relegate you to munching on carrot sticks while the rest of your party is pigging out on heartier, sweeter fare. Getting creative can be the key to enjoying this scrumptious season without tipping the scales.
TV host and syndicated food columnist Daphne Oz says that one of the most versatile and beneficial treats is already a staple for this time of year: the sweet potato.
"You can 'candy' it with a drizzle of agave nectar if you need it sweeter, but they are wonderfully delicious on their own and filled with nutrients," she says via email. "All the excellent root vegetables and squashes -- turnips, pumpkin, acorn squash, potatoes -- make great side dishes. I love to roast them with a healthy dose of olive oil, course salt and lots of rosemary."
Put to good use the quirky nutcracker that old Uncle Bob gave you as a gift years ago -- these snack-mix must-haves are packed with minerals and vitamins. According to an email from nutrition consultant and author Elizabeth M. Ward: "Research suggests that eating 1.5 ounces of tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios, or peanuts daily as part of a diet that's low in cholesterol and saturated fat may reduce your risk of heart disease."
How about those notorious belt-busters? With visions of sugarplums, pies, cookies, and mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy bombarding us at every turn, the experts recommend a variety of ways to avoid the caloric, fatty foods.
Dietician Greta Macaire writes in her "Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating" article that one must "be realistic. Don't try to lose pounds during the holidays. Instead, try to maintain your current weight."
She says that by taking the focus off food and putting it on togetherness, crafts, etc., it will be easier to eat within reason. Brisk, 10- to 15-minute walks are a good distraction from the buffet table.
Yet, she adds, "don't skip meals. Before leaving for a party, eat a light snack like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite. You will be less tempted to overindulge."
Speaking of overindulging, holiday beverages can be just as detrimental to one's diet as the meal. Eggnog is a particularly potent drink when it comes to counting calories: One serving (with alcohol) will set you back 360 calories. But that's child's play compared to a wintry favorite, the white Russian. Eight ounces of the dairy-gonzo libation is a whopping 715 calories.
For those who enjoy adult drinks during the holiday, Oz suggests switching to wine; a hot, mulled version can keep partygoers toasty in cold weather. Add a few herbs and spices to the recipe to assist in detoxification and regulation of blood pressure, she says.
If you're the one tasked with creating a healthy holiday presentation, there are numerous cookbooks and websites that can help. CookingLight.com has features on vegetarian Thanksgivings, alternative gravies (with truffles!) and even serving suggestions for rabbit. The popular "South Beach Diet" series has a book devoted to parties and holiday affairs. FoodNetwork.com has instructional holiday videos hosted by celebrity chefs such as Giada DeLaurentiis.
Staying healthy during the holidays might sound daunting, but with mindfulness and an armful of new recipes, one can eat, drink and be merry without packing on the pounds.