healthy holidays

Holiday Eating Without Regrets

plate of cookiesFrom rich, golden eggnog to densely moist sweet potato pie, tempting food treats seem to be everywhere during the holiday season. No wonder many of us believe that, at this time of year, loading on lots of extra weight is inevitable.

Yet the average person gains only about one pound from November to January (those who are overweight gain more). The real problem: weight you add during the holidays tends to remain with you months later, accounting for more than half of annual gain.

The solution isn't to diet your way through the festive season. "It's important not to feel like you've deprived yourself. But there's a fine line between enjoying and overdoing," says Bethany Thayer, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a dietitian for Health Alliance Plan, the medical insurance arm of Henry Ford Health System, in Detroit.

Make your strategy simply to hold your weight steady. You can achieve that goal with help from your senses of taste, feel and smell.

Fooling your senses

Our senses often work against healthy eating by attracting us to sugary and fat-rich foods. Yet they also can be "fooled" into finding similar pleasure in sugar or fat alternatives that mimic the tastes we like so much, according to Lalita Kaul, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., a dietitian and professor of community health and family practice, Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

When you heighten the sensory appeal of foods you prepare, serve and eat, your senses help you sail through the holiday season. You'll be able to reduce fat and sugar but still enjoy dishes that are as satisfying as traditional calorie-loaded favorites.

Focus on flavor

Is your downfall sweet or salty foods? Or both? "We naturally gravitate toward sweet because we have more sweet taste buds. And salt enhances the flavor of whatever you're consuming," says Thayer.

What's more, we build up an adaptation to both sweet and salty taste, she says, requiring greater amounts to attain satisfaction. Indeed, worldwide, the use of high calorie sweeteners has increased.

You can wean your taste buds gradually from wanting more sweetness or saltiness, but that takes time. To navigate the holiday eating ahead, these tips will help you cut sugar and salt, but still keep flavor appeal high: