MANHATTAN, Kan. – A Kansas State University nutrition specialist suggests understanding food science can be helpful in enjoying holiday meals and parties without adding extra pounds.
Traditional holiday foods often are high in calories, with more sugar and fat than most people normally eat, said Tanda Kidd, K-State Research and Extension nutrition and physical activity specialist.
The fat content typically provides the mouth a smooth, pleasing feel, but that’s not the only reason to reach for more.
Sugar, a simple carbohydrate, triggers neurotransmitters that release hormones (including serotonin) that stimulate a sense of calm and well-being, Kidd said. The body processes simple carbohydrates quickly, so the sense of well-being is short-lived, and that also can prompt a reach for more high-calorie, fattening foods.
To manage holiday events without overindulging, Kidd recommends eating regular meals and perhaps also a snack before a late afternoon or evening event, rather than skipping breakfast and lunch to be able to eat more at a party or festive meal.
She advised eating a variety of foods, including high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables that are filling, and fiber-rich whole grain breads, crackers or cereals; foods with complex carbohydrates that break down slowly to provide lasting energy and contribute to a full, satisfied feeling.
When not overly hungry, guests are more able to pick and choose holiday foods, rather than overindulge in foods that will likely be higher in calories and fat, Kidd said.
While some have dietary restrictions and are advised to not eat -- or to limit -- certain foods or food groups, “Saying ‘I can’t’ when invited to enjoy holiday foods can increase stress, which can stimulate the appetite and food cravings,” she said.
To enjoy the holiday foods without offending a host or hostess, Kidd suggested two responses:
1) If full, politely say “No thank you. I’m full.”
2) Choose a small portion – or taste.
A one-inch slice of pie tastes the same as a three-inch slice of pie, but has one-third the calories, she said.
The same advice, choosing a small portion and taking the time to enjoy every bite, also applies to family favorites that are holiday traditions, she said. Such traditions may cause pause to reflect on memories of past holidays, but shouldn’t be considered reason for a second – or third – helping, said Kidd, who suggested reserving one or two holiday favorites for specific gatherings to stretch holiday enjoyment, yet trim a menu – and temptation.
Kidd also suggested adapting a recipe to reduce calories and fat. Examples could include making a pumpkin pie without a crust, substituting egg whites for whole eggs or evaporated skim milk rather than whole milk or cream, or choosing a similar recipe that is formulated to be lower in calories and fat.
If planning a family or potluck party, the nutrition specialist suggested making a special-occasion family favorite, enjoying a small serving, and leaving the leftovers for others to enjoy.
Kidd’s tips for managing the holidays successfully also include:
Choose a small plate to sample, rather than overindulge.
Eat slowly. On average, it takes about 20 minutes (after food is ingested) for the body to process food and to signal the brain that hunger is satisfied.
Consider liquid calories. A 12-ounce serving of beer has about 150 calories; a five-ounce serving of wine averages 100 calories, and an eight-ounce serving of eggnog has 200 to 300 calories.
Alcohol is known to impair senses, and while we frequently are warned about drinking and driving, Kidd said alcohol also impairs judgment at the dinner or buffet table by causing people to lose their sense of how much they are eating.
Schedule time for 30 or more minutes of physical activity five or more days a week to relieve stress and maintain body functions, including more restful sleep.
Weigh yourself regularly, such as once a week, mid-week or weekly at the same time of day and with similar clothing.
Water weight can vary two to six pounds; if an increase is consistent, Kidd advises cutting back, rather than continuing to eat more calories than needed with a plan to diet in the new year.
Why do New Year’s diets fail? According to Kidd, the eating season typically begins at the end of October with Halloween candy and extends until after Super Bowl Sunday parties and Valentine’s Day chocolates.
After three to four months, a change in eating habits can be difficult to overcome, Kidd said.