giftsThe holidays are in full swing, and for most, these few weeks are marked by celebrations of faith, get-togethers with family and friends, and indulging in holiday food and drink.

With the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s all too easy to forget about your heath. Not coincidentally, the holidays also are peak times for weight gain, food-borne illness, and cold and flu.

Here are some simple measures you and your family can take to stay healthy throughout the holidays.

Pack Presents, Not Pounds

The average American gains two pounds duringavoid gaining weight the holidays. It’s easy to see how. First, it’s harder to make time to prepare healthy meals when you’re busy buying gifts and attending holiday get-togethers (plus, that plate of sugar cookies is right there). Who would want to be on a diet during the holidays anyway?

Unfortunately, most end of the year weight gain stays there. In fact, weight loss is the number one New Year’s Resolution that people make–then break. By choosing healthier alternatives you can still enjoy all your favorite holiday fare without gaining a pound. Here are a few examples:

Eggnog: One cup of regular eggnog has 439 calories, but minus alcohol it’s down to 342 calories. You can drop that number even further by making your eggnog with low fat or skim milk instead of whole milk. Or skip eggnog altogether and opt for sparkling apple cider which contains only 117 calories.

Smart sides: Opt for sides that are less likely to be loaded with salt and sugar, which can add even more calories than flavor. For example, a cup of glazed carrots contains 217 calories, but a cup of steamed carrots, which are naturally sweet, contains just 27 calories and is just as filling. If you can’t part with your traditional sides, like green bean casserole or mashed potatoes, make smart substitutions to cut back on calories. Substitute reduced sodium, low-fat cream of mushroom soup for the casserole, and make your mashed potatoes with skim milk or chicken broth instead of cream.

Turkey: Save calories by sticking to white meat and skippinghealthier desserts the skin. A 4-ounce serving of skinless white meat has 158 calories, while the same portion of dark meat weighs in at 183. Keeping the skin adds another 30 calories. Don’t forget to hold or cut back on the gravy, either. Just two tablespoons of home-made gravy (traditionally made from pan drippings) contains a whopping 45 calories.

Dessert: A slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream contains 530. Skip the whipped cream and you’re down to just 323 calories. A slice of apple pie made with sugar will set you back 630 calories. But substitute the sugar with Splenda® and save 200 calories (for a total of 430 calories). For an even healthier option, try sweet potato pie which is just as yummy and contains just 295 calories.

For more ideas for holiday food makeovers including cultural and international traditions, read Merry Makeovers: Healthy Holiday Foods by WebMD.

Prevent Food-borne Illness

With busy holiday schedules it can be tempting to cut corners in the kitchen. But if you want to avoid an unexpected illness it’s important to make sure you practice safe food prep. Here are a few tips to keep your guests safe from food poisoning:

Make dressing, not stuffing. If you’re making a turkey, cook the stuffing outside the bird. That warm, moist stuffing is inviting to salmonella and other food-borne microbes, which can easily get in from the bird itself or come from other ingredients in the stuffing. Sure, you could cook it long enough to kill the bacteria, but by the time the inside of the turkey reaches a safe 165°, you’ve got a turkey that’s dry, unappealing, and overcooked. To give dressing the inviting flavor of traditional stuffing, use a turkey bouillon. Better Than Bouillon Turkey Base® (available at grocery stores) has no fat and 1/3 less sodium than other turkey bouillons, and packs a serious flavor punch.

Don’t let food sit. A major buffet spread looks great–and who doesn’t want to go back later for seconds? It’s important to put leftovers away promptly if you want to avoid food contamination. In its blog on food safety, the Food and Drug Administration recommends refrigerating foods within two hours of cooking. Bacteria grow rapidly at warm temperatures, so the germs you eliminated from your food by cooking it will just be replaced with new germs if food is left out too long. Tip: take out your Tupperware® containers as part of your meal prep, so it’s easier to promptly pack up leftovers.

sanitize-cutting-boardsSanitize cutting boards: Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of the holidays, but those nicks and scratches in your cutting board can also be hospitable to food-borne microbes. As you’re preparing a new dish, always start with a clean board and wash it with hot, soapy water before you move on to cutting something else. If you’ve been slicing into raw meat, poultry, or seafood, follow the same cleaning instructions, then disinfect all surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution made with 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Cover the cutting surface of a cleaned board with your bleach solution, let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly and let dry. To avoid cross contamination try using separate cutting boards for cooked food versus uncooked, especially when it comes to meat, and keep a separate one for veggies. An easy way to keep track of what’s what is to get a set of cutting boards in different colors so you know, for example, that red means meat and green means vegetables.

Stave Off Colds and Flu

Winter is the peak season for cold and flu outbreaks.Flu season tips Seasonal changes in air humidity are a likely culprit–cold and flu viruses can survive longer indoors when air humidity is low. At the same time, during colder temperatures people to stay indoors and in close proximity to each other longer, making it easier for the cold and flu virus to spread.

As we stated in an earlier blog on flu prevention, you can do a lot to prevent the spread of cold and flu by 1) washing your hands properly (for 20 seconds or more using soap and warm water and drying them with a clean towel), 2) regularly cleaning frequently-touched surfaces, and 3) boosting your immune system through a balanced diet, adequate rest, and regular exercise.

Nobody wants to miss the celebrations, vacations, and joy of the season. Make sure your holidays are as healthy as they are happy!

Your Partner In Health,

Graybill Medical Group