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Pumpkin Custard

In Gluten-Free diet, Holiday Eating Strategies, Recipes on November 20, 2012 at 12:58 PM

By request, I am sharing a tasty, tried-and-true recipe for a healthier alternative to pumpkin pie.  This modified version of the traditional favorite is significantly lower in fat, carbohydrates, and calories–making it a smart choice for people with diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, as well as those trying to prevent weight gain over the prolonged feeding-frenzy that is the holiday season!  And, it is also gluten-free, so those with celiac sprue and gluten intolerance may even indulge in this tasty treat.

The pumpkin custard recipe outlined below uses a standard 9-inch glass pie plate, and consists of 6 servings.  Nutritionally, a 1/6 slice of this recipe contains a mere 120 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 20 grams of carbohydrate, and, as mentioned above, is gluten-free.  One-sixth of a traditional pumpkin pie contains approximately 425 calories, 19 grams of total fat, and 53 grams of carbohydrates—essentially a whole meal’s worth for someone desiring to limit calories and/or dramatic surges in blood sugar.   Even if you plan to serve a traditional pie at your upcoming dinner party, adding this pumpkin custard as an alternative will certainly be appreciated by your guests with specific dietary needs.


1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup apple juice

3 egg whites, lightly beaten

12 oz. can evaporated skim milk

1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/4 cup unpacked brown sugar


1.  pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

2.  combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly

3.  prepare 9-inch glass pie plate using non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with brown sugar

3.  pour mixture into prepared pie plate

4.  bake for 35-45 minutes, or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean

I wish you all a happy and joyous holiday season!  Live well!  Feel well!

Linda 🙂


Baking For A Healthy Heart

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Managing cholesterol, Recipes on November 19, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Are you interested in baking up some healthier holiday goodies this year?  Modifying a traditional recipe is not as difficult or unsavory as it may seem… actually, it is a piece of cake!    Read on:

Heart-healthy baking is all about choosing the right variety of added fat.  All fats, regardless of their source, contain a unique combination of three primary components:  saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat.  Some fats contain trans fat as well, either occurring naturally (as in butter and beef) or from partially hydrogenated oil added during processing.  Eating too much saturated and/or trans fat is likely to result in clogged arteries and higher cholesterol levels, and should, therefore, be limited as much as possible.   Ideally, it is best to avoid all foods made from partially hydrogenated oil, and it is easy to do so by consulting the ingredients list.  Do not rely on the container’s Nutrition Facts panel, as “0 grams trans fat” or “trans fat free” claims are allowable for foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, according to the FDA.  This is a big loop-hole that many folks are not aware of… Be sure to verify the absence of “partially hydrogenated oil” from the ingredient list.

For the majority of your baking needs, with the exception of pie crust, you can use regular (non-light) soft tub margarine spreads containing no partially hydrogenated oils, such as Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, Promise Buttery, Smart Balance, Olivio, Canoleo soft, and BestLife.  Do you realize that cookies, cakes, quick breads, muffins, brownies, and other baked bars, do not require solid fat?   In addition to the soft spreads mentioned above, you can even get away with using naturally trans fat free corn, canola, or blended vegetable oils as a substitution for solid fats—–doing so will modify the texture and make your baked goods softer and moister.  Sounds like a worthwhile trade-in, right?  Using Grandma’s old-fashioned recipe?  Substitute 3/4 cup oil for 1 cup of butter or shortening called for in the recipe; 2/3 cup oil for 3/4 cup butter; 1/3 cup oil for 1/2 cup butter; 3 Tbsp. oil for 1/4 cup butter.  Make sense?  It’s as easy as pie!  Ahem…

Speaking of pie, you will want to use a solid fat when making your own crust.  The good news is that there are healthier options than the typical butter, Crisco shortening, solid stick margarines, and lard used to make flaky crusts & pastries:  Country Crock solid stick margarine claims to be “Great for Baking and Cooking” and actually lives up to that expectation, as a tablespoon contains only 2.5 grams of saturated fat  (compared to butter’s 7 grams) and 0 grams of trans fat (compared to Parkay, Imperial, and Fleischmann’s 1.5-2.5 grams), and behaves itself in the oven too!  Margarines have come a long way over the years, that’s for sure.  Promise sticks, containing 3 grams saturated fat per tablespoon, come in a close second, while I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! sticks rank third, containing 3.5 grams saturated fat and no partially hydrogenated oil.

If you desire to lower the overall fat content in a recipe, you may replace part or all of the fat with applesauce, mashed over-ripe bananas, pureed prunes, low fat yogurt, or buttermilk.  These substitutions work best in quick breads, muffins, brownies, and other bars.

A final modification to reduce the fat and cholesterol content would involve substituting 2 egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute (like Egg Beaters) for each whole egg.

Did you know that pumpkin pie is one of the most nutritious Thanksgiving desserts?  The nutritious part is the pumpkin…however, the traditional pumpkin pie recipe is loaded with calories, fat, and sugar, potentially requiring you to loosen your belt at the table and have 911 on speed-dial!  Stay tuned for a sumptuous pumpkin custard recipe that will allow you to enjoy the fall bounty without adding to your waistline.

Enjoy a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Managing the Holiday Madness (Part 2)

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Wellness on November 18, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Hopefully you have already read the previous holiday article entitled “Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Holiday”??  If not, read that one first, and then return here for part two…

Previously, I emphasized the value of taking care of your body’s basic need for rest, activity, and nutritious food, in order to establish life balance, remain emotionally centered, and manage your waistline during this hectic time of year.  Even when you are successful taking care of yourself January through October, the holiday season presents a whole plethora of time, stress, and food challenges that increase the likelihood of personal neglect.  Ignoring your own needs is a surefire way to fuel feelings of anxiety, stress, and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, so it is smart to have some realistic time, stress, and food management strategies “at the ready” for when the going get tough.  I will offer some sensible suggestions to you now:

Holiday challenge #1:  “So much to do…so little time!”  Sound familiar?  With a holiday prep “to do” list a mile long, we are more likely to sleep less, take fewer “time outs”, neglect exercise, skip meals or grab fast food on the run.  One way to shorten your entire “to-do list” is to set priorities in regards to what you want to do vs. what you think you have to do.  (notice how I put “you think” in front of “have to do”, as most people impose such things on themselves).  This will really help put the joy back into the holidays and free up time for what really matters to you—like taking care of yourself…ahem!  Do you really need to devote hours of time and energy baking 10 different varieties of Christmas cookies every year?  How about just making a few favorites and then plan a “cookie swap” party with your neighbors instead?  (of course, if baking is a stress-relieving activity that you want to do, then have at it!!! Just make sure you are not the only one eating all those cookies…)  Another example:  do you really enjoy writing and addressing 100 Christmas cards?  If you do find joy in the task, try breaking the job up into smaller chunks (such as 5-10 cards each day over the course of a couple weeks) to make it less overwhelming.  If you despise the tedious task yet feel obligated to send out some cards every year, how about limiting your list to those folks you do not see on a regular basis, such as out-of-towners?  One more:  do you really need to fill every nook and cranny of your home with decorative holiday clutter?  What goes up, must come down.  Ugh.  Something very few people look forward to… The dreaded post-holiday task of putting all the clutter away will be far less ominous if you focus on special, tasteful wintery decor that can stay up through March if you so desire.  It saves set up AND clean up time.  For example, I like to decorate my home with winter-themed pine, cardinals, and snowmen—such items do not need to be put away come January 6th like the Christmas tree and ornaments do.  In fact, I keep them out until the snow melts…makes my holiday cleanup easier and my “snowbabies” collection keeps a smile on my face throughout the doldrums of winter! The idea is to spend time on tasks you truly enjoy doing and limiting everything else.  More joy means a happier holiday mindset and less stress, and the time saved can now be spent nurturing yourself with more sleep, exercise, and preparing healthy meals.

Holiday challenge #2:  Food is everywhere!  High-calorie holiday novelty items like egg nog, pumpkin pie, fruitcake, peppermint bark, and traditional holiday recipes are at home, the office, and social gatherings.  Parties are planned at restaurants where portions are notoriously ginormous.  Friends and neighbors drop off homemade treats to spread holiday cheer.  Most social opportunties at this time of year revolve around abundant food and drink.  Yikes!  Our waistlines don’t stand a chance… or do they?  Hmmm.  I happen to have a few “food management” tricks up my sleeve to help you enjoy the treats without overdoing it:

1.  Eat healthy foods, such as fruit, lean protein, whole grains and yogurt regularly throughout the day to control your appetite.  If you are not overly hungry (i.e. starving!), it is much easier to resist temptation and limit yourself to smaller portions of your favorite treats.  No need to deprive yourself, but you will want to set limits.

2.  Likewise, NEVER go to a restaurant or party on an empty stomach.  You are guaranteed to head straight for the food table the instant you walk in the door, leading to an all-night feeding frenzy.  If you are not overly hungry, you can focus on socializing first and the food can enter slowly as the evening unfolds.  Grab a small handful of nuts, a Greek yogurt, or a piece of fruit and low-fat cheese an hour before the party to keep your appetite in check.

3.  Balance “bad” choices with “good” choices.  I am not one to favor categorizing foods as good or bad, but in this case, it is smart to balance healthy with unhealthy choices.  If you deprive yourself of your favorite treats, you will likely binge on them later.  So, allow yourself some of the goodies but make sure you are also eating healthy, nutritious foods to balance them out.  For example, if you go out for a big late morning brunch, eat a light dinner.  If you have an evening party planned, eat lighter, lower calorie foods throughout the day leading up to the party—don’t skip meals, just go super healthy (fruits and vegetables will fill you up without a load of calories).  If you “pig out” on Thanksgiving Day, fill the rest of the weekend with exercise and healthier foods.  No harm done.

4.  Ignorance is NOT bliss!  Pay attention to calories and portions, even the holiday favorites.  Peruse websites that contain calorie information for traditional holiday and restaurant fare.  A little awareness goes a long way towards helping you make better choices and eat less.  For example, a 1/8th piece of a 9-inch traditional pumpkin pie has 300 calories while the same size slice of pecan pie has 500.  You save 200 calories by choosing pumpkin over pecan.  Knowing this little tidbit can help guide your choices.  Eat the filling and leave the crust?  You save another 100 calories.  Yay!  More room leftover for other stuff. 

5.  Set limits on junk foods by focusing on special, novelty items only.  For example, the cookie tray your neighbor brought over has frosted sugar cookies, Russian tea cakes, peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies, rum balls, and a couple of unknown varieties.  You’ve had the sugar cookies and peanut butter ones many many times.  Rather than sitting down to try each and every one of them at the same time, choose one or two of your absolute favorites OR try the new and interesting ones.  The familiar sugar and peanut butter cookies will be there tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  Save them to enjoy later.  No need to get them all down at once.  Again, don’t be caught starving when this tray enters your home or you are gonna dive right in without a second thought!!!

6.  Hide tempting foods in fridge, freezer, or pantry or, better yet, share them with others.  Rather than eating the entire tray mentioned in #5, how about bringing them to your next social obligation or serving them at your family dinner?  The more hands dipping into the goodies, the less for your own waist, hips, and thighs.  Believe me, this is a very good thing.  You are sharing—which is very much in spirit of the season AND you still get to enjoy some of it, without adding holiday pounds.  You keep your friends more slender this way as well. A win-win, in my opinion 😉

7.  Pack healthy snacks when you will be away from home for an extended period of time.  This will keep your from coming home ravenous to that aforementioned “cookie tray” or stopping for fast food along the way.

8.  Limit calories from alcohol, egg nog, and other sugary beverages.  You are better off using those calories on solid food, as they will keep your hunger at bay for a longer period of time and are far more satisfying.

Holiday challenge #3:  STRESS!  Having too many items on your “to do” list and not taking care of yourself produces feelings of anxiety and stress.  When you are stressed, sugary and fatty foods are all the more tempting.  So, stress management must become a priority this season if you want to stay healthy and happy.  Here are some helpful stress-busting strategies:

1.  Limit your “to do list” to the top 5 priorities of the day.  A list longer than 5 will make you harried and more likely to cut back on sleep, exercise, and time for relaxation.  You can accomplish this by planning ahead—do not leave holiday preparations to the last minute when at all possible.  Break time-consuming tasks into smaller chunks over the course of days.  (Like the card writing example given above.)

2.  Exercise is the perfect stress-busting activity.  If planning exercise into your day is challenging for you, make one of your daily priority tasks an active one, such as an hour or two of shopping, decorating, or cleaning.

3.  Turn social opportunities into physical leisure activities:  meet a friend for a walk rather than lunch; plan the office holiday party at a bowling alley or ice arena instead of a pizza parlor; meet “the girls” at a dance club (after eating a healthy dinner at home) for a bootie-shaking good time!

4.  Take time out to laugh and have fun!  Surely you have heard  the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine”?  Truly it is!  Laughter lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins (feel good hormones) into your bloodstream.  Aaaaah!  Go out to a funny movie with friends (Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, anyone??) or make a point to hang out with people who crack jokes and make you LOL! (I have the good fortune of being married to a natural comedian…so I am assured healthful laughter on a regular basis!)  If stumbling around on ice skates makes you laugh hysterically at yourself, all the better–you laugh and get exercise at the same time—a super-duper stress-busting activity!!!

5.  If you’re a parent with small children at home, don’t feel guilty about carving out time for yourself.  You will have an easier time caring for everyone else more joyfully if you meet your own needs first.  If you have relatives staying with you, send them out for fun with the kids while you attend an exercise class, get a massage, or simply put your feet up at home for awhile.  Or, take turns with the neighbors watching the kids so you can have some much-needed alone time to spend however you please.  A little creative planning and forethought can go a long way towards meeting your personal needs, regardless of how many children you have!

6.  Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water on a regular basis to maintain energy and be more productive.  You will be crossing those 5 priority tasks off your list in no time!  Being even slightly dehydrated will make energy levels plummet.  Keep water with you at all times.

7.  Minimize overwhelming obligations.  As mentioned above, many of the things you say you “have to do” are really self-imposed.  You don’t HAVE to meet with every single friend and family member between now and the New Year.  Extend the holiday cheer into January and February to lighten your social calendar and give you something to look forward to in 2012!  Determine which things on your list are really necessary and which things you can modify to make them less stressful.   If having 50 people over every Christmas Eve ruins the holiday for you, it is time to start a new tradition.  Maybe plan to have the immediate family over on Christmas Eve and extend an invitation for a larger family gathering at a neutral location earlier in the month?  Yes, other pampered family members may balk at this, but they are not the ones being overwhelmed and put-upon–and are not exactly offering to help share the load either, are they?  You need to take care of you and put the joy back in your holidays.  Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you need.  Everyone deserves a happy and healthy holiday—including you.

So, there you have it.  Realistic strategies for managing your time, food, and stress this holiday season.  I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and happy and healthy New Year!  Any questions?  Feel free to ask!


Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Holiday

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Wellness on November 8, 2011 at 10:48 AM

The holiday eating frenzy has begun.  It technically began the moment you brought Halloween candy home to pass out to the neighborhood children, and you may now be grappling with your own childrens’ trick-or-treating bounty or leftovers.  Whatever the case may be, between now and January 1st, less-than-healthy food will be abundant and tempting us at every turn.  And yet, managing our food intake is only one of several healthy living issues, as the hectic holiday season often leaves us short on time and high on stress, making it very difficult to take care of ourselves.  

As you can probably imagine, many people overeat in response to stress, fatigue, and/or because it is within sight.  (I, for one, can be guilty of all three depending on the situation…) These natural tendencies create an “axis of evil” at holiday time when we are overwhelmed by our “to-do” lists, stressed out, over-tired, and have sumptuous and savory food around us morning, noon, and night.  Yikes!   Therefore,  I am here to offer you some common sense strategies for negotiating this holiday madness which will keep you feeling (but not looking) as joyous as St. Nick!  Sound good to you?  Then read on:

Having a healthy and happy holiday season (in which you also successfully manage your weight) is dependent upon  getting enough rest, daily activity, and regular consumption of nutritious food.  If you push off your bedtime in order to “get a few more things done”, you are only setting yourself up for craving sugary and fatty foods tomorrow.  When you do not leave enough time for sleep, rest, and relaxation (typical of the holiday season), your body produces more ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone, and less leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full.  Therefore, the less sleep you get, the hungrier you are and the more you need to eat to feel full.  Hmmm… sounds like a recipe for weight gain to me…  And then, to add insult to injury, inadequate rest increases cortisol levels, a hormone that makes you feel anxious and stressed, which increases the likelihood of emotional overeating.  When you are tired and your cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin hormones are all out of whack, sugary and fatty foods will temporarily satisfy your body and mind, only to leave you wanting more and more a short time later.  Cookies and pie will go down the hatch a little too easily under these circumstances, as both contain a hefty dose of sugar and fat.   By making time for sleep, rest, and relaxation, you are at significantly less risk of overeating and subsequent weight gain.  Be kind to yourself: self-nurturing activities that calm you, relax you, or make you laugh, will increase feelings of contentment and joy and keep your waistline intact. 

Exercise is generally one of the first things to be omitted from an over-crowded “to do” list.  Eliminating exercise amidst a busy schedule is very counter-productive if you think of all the ways daily activity can benefit you at this time of year:  moving your body naturally lowers stress by decreasing your body’s cortisol levels and increasing happy endorphins, which leads to feelings of contentment rather than stress.  It is a lot easier to resist tempting foods when your psyche is in a happy place.  Regular activity will also regulate your appetite and help mitigate the detrimental effects of too many indulgences.   If planning for a structured exercise session only stresses you out more, make a point of putting the “active” back into your activities–plan to spend 1-2 hours each day performing a task that gets you moving, such as grocery shopping, a trip to the mall, decorating the house, cleaning, or fulfilling a social obligation at an ice arena rather than a restaurant.   This way, you can feel accomplished AND give your body what it needs at the same time.   You deserve it.

Finally, you are going to have more energy to handle your daily tasks if you supply your body with a consistent dose of nutritious food.  However, when short on time and stressed out, a person is more inclined to skip meals, grab fast foods, and do less home cooking, which is not the way to power your body in its greatest time of need.  Eating healthy foods that supply your body with energizing vitamins and minerals, such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, nuts & seeds, lean protein and whole grains, every 3-4 hours will regulate appetite, stabilize blood sugar levels, and keep your metabolism humming for weight control.  Skipping meals will only increase your appetite and lead to overeating later.  Eating “junk foods” that give your body nothing but sugar and fat will set your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride, leading to feelings of sluggishness and fatigue and exacerbating the cravings for sweets and baked goods all the more.  This doesn’t mean you must deprive yourself of holiday treats, however—if you consistently fuel your body with the good stuff, there is certainly room for small amounts of the goodies too 🙂  And it will be a whole lot easier to keep your portions to a minimum if you are treating your body right.

It is my hope that you will make the effort to include a little personal time for yourself each day to rest, be active, and eat well over the next couple of months.  Stay tuned for an additional holiday survival article in which I will outline some realistic food, time, and stress management strategies to help keep you on track.

Happy Holidays!

Preventing Sugar Overload

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Nutrition Basics, Snacking on December 13, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Aaaahhhh.  The joys of Christmas:  tree trimming, card writing, gift giving, over-eating…and the inevitable sugar buzz!!!  Some of you may consider it cruel of me to broach this subject at a time of joyful indulgence…  Others may be glad for the friendly reminder to go easy with all the sweet treats of the season.   I have received a variety of questions from my readers regarding sugar intake over the past year, and thought it wise to summarize the answers in this special holiday edition 😉

Who can honestly afford the roughly 400 calories’ worth of added sugars that the typical American consumes each day?  Holidays or not, we as a population are addicted to sugar.  There is an abundance of evidence suggesting that added sugars, from sweetened beverages, coffee drinks, candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, ice cream, cereals, granola bars, etc., may raise the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and gout.   Have an interest in preventing these formidable diseases?  Cutting back on sugar is one positive step towards doing so!

Exactly what are added sugars, you ask?  They include high-fructose corn syrup, ordinary table sugar (sucrose), honey, agave syrup or nectar, apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, grape juice concentrate, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, and beet sugar.   High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has developed a negative reputation in the media over the past few years.  Many people have become so conscious of avoiding HFCS that they forget about avoiding all these other added sweeteners too!  Eating a granola bar that lists “brown rice syrup” on the ingredient list has added sugar. 

The greatest problem with added sugar is that it is a source of “empty” calories—essentially no nutritional value.  Added sugars either crowd out healthy, nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains), or they make you gain weight if you eat them in addition to healthy foods.  The American Heart Association suggests that a  typical woman should get no more than 100 calories (about 6 1/2 tsps or 25 grams) a day from added sugars, and typical man no more than 150 calories (about 9 1/2 tsps or 38 grams) per day.  Less than these recommendations is even better!!! 

To help you stay on top of your discretionary sugar intake, sugar content is quantitatively (in grams) provided on the Nutrition Facts label.  Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no distinction between natural sugars and added sugars.  As a general rule of thumb, if a food contains little or no milk or fruit (which have natural sugars), then the “Sugars” number on the package will let you know how much added sugar you are getting in each serving.  (make sure to check the serving size at the top of the panel)  Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in whole fruit, milk, and plain yogurt.

One sure-fire way to exceed the added sugar recommendations is to consume sugar-sweetened beverages.  Soft drinks are the number-one source of added sugar in the American diet.  Not only do liquid sugars contribute an exceptional amount of extra calories, they do not curb your appetite for more food.  Reasearch has shown that people do not compensate for liquid sugars by eating less solid food at meals and snacks, like one would if he or she ate the same number of calories from solid food.  (i.e. eating 100 calories worth of an orange will fill you up more than 100 calories worth of orange juice, allowing you to eat less food overall)  It’s not just soda pop either…beware of sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Propel), energy drinks (Red Bull, Monster, Glaceau Vitamin Water), sweetened teas (SoBe, Lipton, Snapple, Arizona, Nestea, Tazo), fruit juice/drinks, coffee drinks, hot cocoa, egg nog, and alcoholic beverages containing sugars and juices (flavored martinis, after-dinner liqueurs, Daquiris, Pina Coladas, Margaritas, Mojitos).  The more nutritious 100% fruit juice, such as orange, grape, or grapefruit, should be limited to no more than 1 cup per day.

It is important to realize that most sugary foods are JUNK foods—high in sugar & calories, and low in nutrients.  Many are also packed with virtually worthless white flour (refined from wheat) and come in sizes not suitable for just one person watching his or her waistline.  That tempting “breakfast muffin” at Panera or Starbucks is essentially a large piece of cake.  Not the best way to start your day…

For the remainder of the holiday season, see if you can avoid drinking sugar-laden beverages in favor of diet soda, calorie-free flavored water (“Metromint” water is a new favorite of mine), and/or unsweetened coffee and tea as often as possible.  You can then cut down on the solid treats come January 😉

Here’s to a Happy New Year of good health and good eatin’!

Ten Ways to Stop “Holiday Stress Eating”

In Holiday Eating Strategies on December 10, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Even though the holiday season is full of heart-warming and energizing excitement, it is inevitable that most people will experience pressure-induced stress from all the activities, preparations, and commitments.  Both positive and negative stressors can lead to aberrations in your normal eating and lifestyle behaviors:  you sleep less, skip meals, eat more high fat/high sugar “comfort foods”, neglect exercise, etc. etc.  Sound familiar?  To help you stay focused and healthy this holiday season, I will remind you of ten ways you can cut stress, thereby giving you more energy and focus as you enjoy time with family and friends:

1.  Get plenty of sleep: 7-8 hours per night is ideal.  Recent research studies have determined that people sleeping less than 7 hours a night produce less of the hormone that diminishes appetite (leptin) and more of the appetite stimulating hormone (ghrelin).  Therefore, sleep deprivation will likely lead to a bigger appetite and subsequent weight gain.

2.  Make time for exercise:  short on time?  Even 20 minutes of activity a day can make a difference.  Aerobic exercise, such as walking, ice skating, cross country skiing, Zumba, and stationary cycling, naturally reduces the volume of stress hormones circulating in your system (adrenaline and cortisol), while increasing levels of “feel good” hormones (endorphins), which leads to feelings of contentment and relaxation.  AAAAAHHHH….

3.  Do not skip meals:  you need the energy now more than ever!  Eating small, frequent, nutritious meals throughout the day keeps you  energized, prevents comfort food cravings, and will keep you from getting overly hungry.  Christmas cookies and chocolate truffles are even more tempting when you are famished from a long day of shopping at the mall without a lunch break!

4.  Eat a variety of foods:  eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, such as meat, dairy, and eggs to help fill you up, keep your body energized, and your metabolism humming along.  It is O.K. to include a cookie or two, a piece of chocolate, or a Peppermint Mocha coffee (sans whip) in your healthy eating plan.  Depriving yourself makes the goodies all the more appealing.  Enjoy enough to please your palate but not disturb your waistline.

5.  Set aside some time for yourself:  self-care is an important part of stress management: read a book, take a bath, meditate, get a manicure, attend a yoga class, or take a 15 minute “time out” to just sit and relax with your feet up at some point during the day.  Nurturing yourself gives you more energy to nurture others without the overwhelming feelings of stress.

6.  LAUGH!  Laughter can help you feel better emotionally and physically by lowering your blood pressure and revving up your immune system.  Don’t have amusing friends to share your time with?  Then tune in to your favorite comedy show or movie—watching “Christmas Vacation” (starring Chevy Chase) is one of my favorite ways to get in the holiday spirit while laughing my head off!!

7.  Spend down time with a friend:  there is to be no purpose to this meeting other than just sharing some quality time together and RELAXING: grab a coffee and chat, catch a movie together (preferably a comedy), or share a glass of wine by the fire listening to soothing music.  Peaceful social interaction and bonding is good for the heart, body, and soul.

8.  Do NOT think about weight loss:  there is no worse way to induce stress (and guilt) than to try to drop pounds while tempted by so many holiday goodies.  Be mindful of what you are eating (keeping a food diary may help) but aim for weight maintenance over the holidays instead.  You can resume your weight loss efforts come January 😉

9.  Set priorities:  you don’t HAVE to say yes to every invitation this month.  If your social calendar is too demanding, plan to meet with friends in January or February instead.  Something to look forward to after the start of the new year will keep you in the holiday spirit for longer too!

10.  Focus your energy and time:  choose activities that exemplify what the holidays mean to YOU.   Don’t be tied to traditions that feel more like chores than joys—-despise baking cookies for the entire neighborhood? Then skip the homemade goodies this year and offer cheer by caroling in the neighborhood together.  Cooking the holiday meal is more overwhelming than enjoyable for you?  Choose a nice restaurant to gather at for dinner and return to your home for dessert and opening presents afterwards instead.  Don’t be a slave to your “to do” list.  Do things you WANT to do.  Don’t like writing lengthy updates in your Christmas cards?  Reach out to your long distance friend to catch up by phone instead.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Selecting a Healthy Holiday Dinner

In Holiday Eating Strategies on November 18, 2010 at 2:13 PM

As the third posting under “Holiday Eating Strategies” this month, it is important to now get down to some nutrition basics….  Do you know how many calories are in that green bean casserole?  egg nog?  slice of pecan pie?  While some people think ignorance is bliss when it comes to choosing what to put on their plate, a little awareness goes a long way towards preventing excessive overeating at holiday time.

To help those who are trying to keep their weight, cholesterol, and/or blood sugars under control this season,  I have calculated the calories, fat, and carbohydrate grams for standard recipes likely to be found on your holiday dinner table.  Most people will eat 1000+ calories at Thanksgiving dinner alone, not to mention any appetizers that were consumed prior to the meal.  Ideally, a meal should not contain more than 600 calories, 30 grams of total fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 45-60 grams of carbohydrate (from starches/sugars).   Examine the choices below to help you decide what you really want to include on your plate this year…as mentioned in a previous post, choose the foods that you will MOST enjoy and ignore the rest.   (hint:  if you are reading this post on the site’s homepage, the table below will be difficult to read…retrieve the post through the “archives” to get a clearer view) 

food item      (std recipe) portion size calories total fat/ saturated fat (g) carbohydrates (g)
roasted turkey 4 oz. 150 0.8 /0.2 0
glazed ham 3 oz. 125 3.0/2.0 2
mashed potatoes 1/2 cup 120 4.4/1.1 18
mashed sweet potatoes 1/2 cup 220 3.0/0.5 51
bread stuffing 1/2 cup 180 8.6/1.7 22
cranberry sauce 1/4 cup 110 0 25
turkey gravy 1/4 cup 30 1.2/0.2 3
jello with fruit 1/2 cup 70 0 15
dinner roll 1 oz. 85 2 14
green bean casserole 1/2 cup 130 7.0/3.5 12
creamed corn 1/2 cup 90 0.5 23
salad with 2 tbsp Italian dressing 1 1/2 cups 120 8.3/1.3 10
steamed vegetables 1 cup 50 0 5
pumpkin pie 1/8 of 9″ 320 14.5/5.0 40
pecan pie 1/8 of 9″ 500 27/5 65
apple pie 1/8 of 9″ 410 19.5/4.7 58
vanilla ice cream 1/2 cup 140 7.3/4.5 15.5
peanut brittle 1 oz 140 5.5/1.2 20
egg nog 1/2 cup 170 9.5/5.6 17
dry wine 5 oz. 125 0 5

FYI:  In case you were horrified by the mashed sweet potatoes above, I reported the “typical” holiday version that includes butter, brown  sugar, and marshmallow topping.   Sweet potatoes are usually a healthier choice than white potatoes, but not in this instance… 

A helpful hint:  in order for you to feel full and satisfied with only 600 calories, you will want  to include a large portion of salad and/or steamed vegetables.  Non-starchy vegetables fill you up with minimal calories, fat, and carbohydrates—a win, win, win all the way around, with a boost to your nutritional health as well.

Any questions?  Don’t hesitate to ask.  Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving 😉

It’s Party Time!

In Holiday Eating Strategies on November 14, 2010 at 5:08 PM

The average person will attend five different holiday parties this season, whether it be an office luncheon at a restaurant, an evening cocktail party, or a dinner party at someone’s home.  Take heed of the following hints to help keep your waistline as lean as your wallet  by the new year:

 1.  Plan ahead:  eat small, low calorie meals during the day to “conserve” calories for party treats.

2.  Don’t go to the party hungry.  Eat a light, healthy snack before you leave home or the office.

3.  Upon arriving at the party, DO NOT head straight for the food table!  If you ate a healthy snack beforehand, your mind will be on socializing rather than eating.

4.  Make only one trip to the buffet and be selective.  Choose  moderate portions of  the foods that will give your taste buds the most satisfaction.  No need to waste calories on foods that you don’t truly enjoy.

5.  Keep portions small.  By doing so, you save room on your plate for tasting a variety of different foods.

6.  Always find room on your plate for cubes of fruit, fresh vegetables, shrimp cocktail, and whole grain bread/crackers to help you fill up on minimal calories.  If you want high-fat cheese, take only one or two pieces. 

7.  If you are bringing a dish to the party, make a low-calorie recipe favorite that will provide you with at least one healthy choice.

8.  Be mindful of liquid calories from regular soda, wine, beer, liquor, juices, punch, egg nog, etc.  Whenever possible, opt for a calorie free beverage such as diet soda, hot tea, or a club soda with a twist of lemon.

9.  If at a restaurant, choose a salad or a non-creamy, vegetable based soup as an appetizer rather than the typical fried fare.  Ask for all condiments/toppings on the side and use sparingly.

10.  When ordering off a menu, choose foods that are baked, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted or steamed.  Limit foods that are au gratin, breaded, crispy, deep fried, in cream or butter sauce, pan fried, or scalloped.

11.  If you choose to have a dessert, share it with others.

12.  Eat slowly and stop eating when you no longer feel hungry.  If at a restaurant, ask the staff to pack up the leftovers before you have the chance to absent-mindedly pick at and eat the rest of your plate.


Planning for a Healthy Holiday Season

In Holiday Eating Strategies on November 10, 2010 at 9:12 PM

November signals the start of a festive season that extends into the new year.  It’s a time when we celebrate family, friends, and cherished traditions.  And, if you are like most people, your holiday plans are long on sumptuous meals and delicious treats, yet short on time for relaxation, physical activity, and eating on a regular schedule. 

Why don’t you give yourself a gift this holiday season??  Make healthful choices that fit your lifestyle so you can do all the things you want to do.  First, write  a list of  all the holiday festivities you plan to participate in.  Second, plan a schedule, building in time for preparations AND for yourself.  Yes, shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, entertaining, and card writing are all important for a fulfilling holiday season, but so is finding time to meet your personal needs.   A workable schedule includes time to eat well, take “time outs”, and exercise–a well-fueled, fit, and relaxed shopper is a force to be reckoned with!!!  A healthy diet and regular exercise throughout the holiday season will help reduce the stress that often accompanies too many tasks and too few hours in the day.

When it comes to healthful holiday eating, a sensible approach works best.  Enjoy all foods, just don’t overdo it.  Here are some suggestions for enjoying holiday foods in moderation:

1.  Eat a snack, such as a piece of fruit or a lowfat yogurt, before heading to a party.  This way, you will be relaxed mingling with friends right from the start, without feeling the need to head straight for the food table.   Being too hungry when you arrive leads to an all-night feeding frenzy…

2.  Survey the choices available and take a small portion of foods that appeal to you the most.  One of the biggest challenges is the tremendous variety of foods and treats at holiday parties.  Your best friend baked 10 different kinds of Christmas cookies?  This doesn’t mean you have to try all 10 varieties in one sitting!  Limit your selection to one or two of the most interesting ones. 

3.  Setting a goal to maintain your weight during the holidays may be more realistic than trying to lose weight at this time.  All foods can fit into a healthy eating plan provided you control portion sizes.    Eating small, frequent meals will help keep your appetite at bay, making tempting, high calorie  foods easier to resist.

4.  Caloric balance is key to managing your weight at holiday time:  a larger, high calorie breakfast can be be balanced by a smaller, low calorie dinner OR a high calorie intake one day can be balanced by lower calorie intake the next.

Everyone eats more than usual during the holiday season—special recipes and treats saved for this time of year are meant to be enjoyed.  Not only is over-indulging a good reason to make time for exercise, but so is the fact that physical activity can improve your sense of well-being and help reduce your stress levels.  Since time is of the essence during this busy season, and you may be challenged to fit structured exercise into your day, try incorporating some fun activities into your holiday celebrations.  This will make it easier for yourself as well as those you love to be more active.  Here are some ideas:

1.  Have your office party or family reunion at a local ice skating or roller rink.

2.  Work up a sweat by briskly performing household cleaning tasks before or after hosting a party—not only will you burn calories, but you will get your chores done much faster (allowing more time for relaxation)

3.  Go caroling through the neighborhood during a dinner party—this will  help everyone get away from the food for a little while 😉

4.  Plan an active “theme” party for New Year’s Eve, such as a 70’s or 80’s dance party or country square dance.

5.  When shopping at the mall, take the stairs  rather than elevator or escalator.   Window shop before buying by arriving at the mall an hour before it opens to walk the perimeter.  Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk (you will also avoid the frustration of procuring a “good” parking spot in an overcrowded lot!!).

7.  Spread holiday cheer by offering to shovel the sidewalk of an elderly person.

Holidays are special and only occur once a year.  Take time to relax and enjoy them.  Set REALISTIC expectations and strive for balance among family, friends, work, entertaining, and play.  Don’t be discouraged if you splurge on a special meal, eat an extra helping of a rich dessert, or skip your workout for a day or two.  Just eat lighter and move more for a few days afterwards, and get back into your regular eating and exercise routines when you can.  It is supposed to be a season of celebration and joy, not guilt and frustration.

Happy Holidays!

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