Know your holiday superfoods!

Scared of holiday weight gain? Have no fear ... Superfoods are here! Thanksgiving is the unofficial start of the "holiday eating season" -- from gatherings of family and friends to office parties. And in the time-honored tradition to "eat, drink and be merry," most of us end up overindulging, which can lead to unwanted weight gain.

  1. This time of year is a diet disaster for most people. What can we do?
    Eating healthy during the holiday season is easier than you think. One of the easiest ways to eat healthy is by keeping a kitchen stocked with foods that are quick to prepare and friendly to the waistline -- while offering a variety of health benefits. By mixing and matching these superfoods, combined with a few survival tips for managing parties, the holidays can be a healthy and festive time.

  2. So, what are these super foods?
    >>Soymilk: Soymilk has moved from the fringes to mainstream,. This simple way to add soy to the diet packs a major nutrient punch. Fortified soymilk is a great alternative to cow's milk in supplying calcium and vitamin D, plus it contains phytoestrogens that lower heart disease risk, promises to reduce the risk for memory loss and osteoporosis, and even might help with weight loss. 8th Continent Complete is even better, since it also contains the omega-3 fat DHA, which helps lower heart disease risk and is essential for brain and vision development in kids. Plus, 8th Continent Complete packs 3 grams of fiber into every glass.

    How to Use: Use instead of milk in holiday recipes, or in coffee, on cereal, or add to smoothies

    >> Bagged greens: This time of year, the secret to healthy eating is simplicity. It doesn't get any easier than with bagged lettuce and spinach. It is almost impossible to meet all your nutritional needs without including dark green leafies. A one-cup serving of spinach supplies 150mg of magnesium, or more than half of a woman's daily recommendation. Dark green leafies also boost your intake of fiber; vitamin C; folic acid, the B vitamin that lowers risk for heart disease, memory loss, and birth defects; vitamin K that helps build strong bones; and the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium. But, that's just the tip of this nutritional iceberg. A study from Cornell University found that of all the vegetables studied, dark greens have the highest score for inhibiting cancer cells. Greens are especially good sources of the phytochemical lutein, which lowers the risk for age-related vision loss.

    How to Use: Switch from iceberg lettuce to spinach or other dark lettuces for salads; layer greens into lasagna; steam, chop, and whip them into mashed potatoes; add a bag of baby spinach to scrambled eggs, soups, or stews, or saute them in a little olive oil and garlic. (Heating greens actually improves their beta carotene and lutein content, as long as you cook them quickly in a minimal amount of liquid.)

    >> Sweet Potatoes: No time to fix a big dinner? You can have an evening meal on the table in 15 minutes, just put chicken breasts under the broiler, make a salad with bagged lettuce, heat some frozen peas, and put a sweet potato in the microwave. Even a small serving of deep-orange vegetables supplies five times the Daily Value for beta carotene, which might lower your risk for cancer, boost defenses against colds and infections, and protect the skin from sun damage. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing partial 24-hour protection against sun damage. The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread or a bowl of oatmeal.

    How to Use: Microwave that sweet potato and top with maple syrup and pecans. Puree and add cooked sweet potatoes to soups as a thickener. Use instead of potatoes in salads. Slice sweet potatoes into wedges, salt, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes for golden fries. Cook, mash, and use instead of noodles or rice as a base for any dish.

    >> Nuts: During the Holidays, make sure to always bring healthy foods with you, so you aren't caught short with only the vending machine to choose from. Along with string cheese, apples, and other healthy carry-along snacks, bring an ounce of nuts. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins, and recent research shows that a handful of nuts consumed several times a week lowers heart disease and cancer risk. Granted, nuts are high in calories, but the fat is heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats that helps with weight loss.

    How to Use: Sprinkle them instead of croutons on salads, into rice dishes, atop cereal and yogurt, or into a stir fry.

    >> Low-Sodium Broth-Based Soups: This time of year, make sure the cupboards are stocked with reduced-sodium soups. The ultimate trick to permanent weight loss is to feel satisfied on fewer calories. That trick includes two accomplices: fiber and water. Two components of soup. People who start a meal with a bowl of soup cut back on calories for the rest of the meal and stayed full longer throughout the day compared to women who skipped the pre-meal soup. In fact, people average about 135 calories less when the meal contains soup. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a year it equates to a 14 pound loss! Weight-loss experts predict that if Americans cut just 100 calories a day it would halt the obesity epidemic in this country. That's three bites of food, 10 minutes of walking, or a daily bowl of soup.

    How to Use: You can either make a big batch of homemade vegetable soup to use throughout the week. Or choose reduced-sodium canned soups, such as Campbell's Healthy Request soups, then dilute the sodium and increase the fiber by adding extra frozen peas and carrots or chopped spinach. At restaurants, make soup your main course.

    >> Cans of Beans: We all know that beans are mind-boggling good for you. Whether they are lentils, chick peas, split peas, or black, kidney, navy, or pinto beans, legumes are packed with nutrients that improve mood, such as folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The folate in beans protects against a memory-destroying compound called homocysteine. The antioxidant phytonutrients in legumes, such as saponins and phytosterols, lower cancer and heart disease risk. Beans also are the perfect diet food. They are almost fat-free, but high in protein, water, and fiber - the magic combo for feeling full and satisfied on few calories. One cup of cooked legumes has up to 16 grams of fiber! You would have to eat five bananas or four cups of corn to get that much fiber!

    How to Use: Use beans in salads, burritos, and soups, or sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot on top or rice. Skip the ranch dip and dunk vegetables in hummus.

    >> Whole Grains: Grains are one of the reasons we gain weight during the holidays. But not all grains are diet disasters. In fact, whole grains help you lose weight! While we eat record amounts of refined grains, typical consumption of whole grains is less than one serving a day. Eighty five percent of our grains are refined, which contributes to a huge fiber shortfall, not to mention the vitamins and minerals that are lost when grains are processed. Whole grains also supply health-enhancing phytochemicals not found in refined grains. Many refined grains, such as cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and muffins, are so high in fat that they rank #4 as a source of saturated fat in our diets. Research repeatedly reports that people who eat the most whole grains have lower risks for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even weight gain.

    How to Use: Switch from white bread to 100% whole wheat for sandwiches, French toast, and Holiday dinner rolls.

  3. What are your tips for managing holiday temptations at office parties, buffet tables, and other social gatherings?

    You can maintain your waistline and your health and still enjoy the holidays if you face them with a plan that includes these 12 rules:

    >>Be choosey. Attend only the parties and eat only those foods that are most important to the tradition of the holidays.

    >>Don't skip meals. Skip breakfast to bank the calories will to lead to overeating at the party. So front load your calories, by eating a light and healthful breakfast and lunch. For example, have a bowl of whole grain cereal topped with 8th Continent Complete soymilk and served with a glass of orange juice for breakfast and a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread served with a spinach salad for lunch.

    >>Sample, don't gorge. The enjoyment of tasting new foods comes in the first few bites. Savor the flavor of one appetizer, but don't eat the whole bowl.

    >>Be polite, not nice. Rehearse ahead of time how you will gracefully say "no" to food offers, coaxings, and coercions.

    >>Have a specific plan. Decide ahead of time exactly what and how much you will eat and drink. Then stick with your plan.

    >>Just say "no" to alcohol. Even one beer or wine spritzer can breakdown your defenses and lead to overeating. Avoid alcohol altogether, dilute your drinks, or alternate one alcoholic beverage with two non-alcoholic beverages.

    >>Loosen up. Give yourself permission to attend a party, even if you don't eat or drink.

    >>Never arrive hungry. You are less likely to overeat and more likely to feel relaxed and ready to enjoy the festivities if you have a healthful snack or mini-meal before a party.

    >>Think veggies. Fill your plate with vegetables, fruit, low-fat crackers and cheese, and an extra-lean slice of meat from the buffet table and enjoy the company guilt-free.

    >>Liquefy: Stay hydrated by drinking good-for-you beverages, such as water, sparkling water, soymilk, low-sodium tomato or V8 juice, and diluted fruit juice.

    >>Scrape it off. You can scrape lots of calories off treats and still enjoy the experience. Scrape the icing off a piece of carrot cake and you save 245 calories. Eat pie without the crust and save 120 calories. Pizza cleared of cheese saves 100 calories. If you made these small concessions every day, you'd prevent a 5-pound weight gain over the holidays.

    >>Work it off. Now is the time to exercise. Move more throughout the day to burn off any extra calories. Go for a walk after meals, walk once around the mall before shopping, use stairs instead of the escalator, park a few blocks from your destination, walk to a co-worker's station rather than email her, put away the remote control and the mobile phone and get up to change the station or answer the phone. Don't put off a workout because your don't have time for the whole 9 yards. Daily spurts of exercise are useful, too. Remember - exercise is the currency with which you "pay" for all the yummy holiday fare.
About Elizabeth Somer M.A.:
She is a registered dietitian who has carved a unique professional niche as one of the few, if not only, dietitians who is well-versed in nutrition research. For 25 years, she has kept abreast of the current research, packaging that information into easy-to-read books, magazine articles, lectures, continuing education seminars, and practical news for the media.

Somer is also the author of "Age-Proof Your Body". Click here to buy the book on Amazon.

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