With the holiday season well under way, chances are, you've been tempted by bite-sized hors d'oeuvres, home-baked cookies, chocolate truffles, perhaps even an eggnog or two. And it's not just the cocktail parties and family dinners that can throw your healthy eating plan off course. Even a day at the office can be a challenge as holiday sweets surround you.
Add to the mix a jam-packed schedule that prevents you getting to the gym for workouts or taking a power walk around the block. Too little exercise and too much food temptation can cause even the healthiest of eaters to cast nutrition aside for the month of December.
It's true that fat, sugar and sodium lurk in stuffed phyllo pastries, miniature spring rolls, and shortbread cookies, but you don't need to deprive yourself of your favourite festive foods.
After all, a little overindulgence is okay every now and then.
The holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry. But they needn't be an excuse to relinquish those healthy eating habits you mastered this past year.
When faced with a choice between shortbread and truffles or cranberry sauce and gravy, it helps to know which one is lower in fat and calories, and higher in vitamins and minerals.
With a little know-how and a plan in hand, it's entirely possible to survive the festive season with nutrition in mind and without expanding your waistline.
To hone your healthy eating skills for the holidays - and to pick foods with the best overall nutritional value - take a few minutes to complete our nutrition IQ quiz.
Raw veggies and dip are always appreciated by nutrition-minded guests. Which dip is easier on your waistline, hummus or baba ganouj?
The lower-calorie choice is hummus, a dip made from ground chickpeas and sesame-seed paste. A two-tablespoon (25 ml) serving contains roughly 60 calories and three grams of fat.
Baba ganouj is made from roasted eggplant and mayonnaise - often more mayonnaise than eggplant. Depending on the brand, a two-tablespoon serving (25 ml) of baba ganouj contains 90 to 120 calories and nine to 12 grams of fat.
If you're going to visit the hors d'oeuvres table, which choice has the fewest calories, mini vegetable spring rolls (quantity: two) or large shrimp with cocktail sauce (five)?
You'll get more food for fewer calories and fat if you choose the shrimp. Five large shrimp with cocktail sauce have 57 calories and only half a gram of fat.
Two bite-size vegetable springs rolls have double the calories (120) and considerably more fat (7 grams) because they're fried in oil.
There's more good news. Studies suggest that shrimp don't raise blood cholesterol.
They contain virtually no cholesterol-raising saturated fat and they provide omega-3 fatty acids. They're also a source of vitamin B12 and niacin, plus iron, zinc and copper.
You've heard that nuts are good for the heart, but which holiday cocktail snack has the nutritional advantage, cashews or almonds?
Studies suggest that both types of nuts help reduce the risk of heart disease, but almonds deliver more nutrients. Per 1/4-cup (50 ml) serving, almonds provide more heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fibre and calcium than cashews.
One-quarter cup of dry roasted almonds provides 209 calories, 18 grams of fat (12 of those monounsaturated fat), 4 grams of fibre, and 92 milligrams of bone-building calcium. The same portion of cashews has 197 calories, 16 grams of fat (9 grams as monounsaturated fat), 1 gram of fibre, and 15 mg of calcium.
Calories from holiday cocktails can add up as quickly as those from high-fat hors d'oeuvres. Which drink contains the fewest calories, champagne (100 ml) or cosmopolitan (75 ml)?
If you're counting calories, you're better off sipping champagne. One serving (100 ml) of bubbly has 76 calories; the cosmopolitan (vodka, triple sec, lime juice, cranberry juice) has 131 calories. To dilute calories, order cocktails made with a calorie-free mixer, such as vodka and soda, rum and diet Coke, or a white-wine spritzer.
Which glass of holiday cheer offers the most nutrients per one-cup serving, apple cider or eggnog?
If you're looking for more vitamins and minerals, head for the punch bowl filled with eggnog. Per serving, eggnog has more protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and zinc than apple cider. In fact, one cup provides one-third of your daily calcium and half a day's vitamin B12. To reduce your intake of saturated fat, buy reduced-fat eggnog (2 per cent milk-fat or less). (If you do plan to serve apple cider, buy a pasteurized product to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.)
Turkey and ham are traditional favourites at holiday dinners. Which one serves up the least amount of fat, roasted turkey, light meat (90 grams) or baked ham, inside round (90 grams)?
The light turkey serves up less fat - only 1.4 grams of fat per 3-ounce (90 gram) serving. A similar portion of fresh ham, inside round, has 3.7 grams of fat. However, if you like to eat the skin with your turkey, the ham's a leaner choice. One serving (90 grams) of roasted turkey breast with skin has 7.5 grams of fat, double the amount in ham.
If you're indulging your sweet tooth, which holiday dessert is the healthier choice, mincemeat pie, one slice (one-eighth of a pie) or pumpkin pie, one slice (one-sixth of a pie)?
Pick pumpkin pie If you want fewer calories and more nutrients. One slice has 229 calories, 10 grams of fat and 15 grams of sugar - considerably less than a slice of mincemeat pie (477 calories, 18 grams of fat and 47 grams of sugar). A slice of pumpkin pie also offers more calcium than mincemeat and nearly half your daily vitamin A.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Visit her website at lesliebeck.com.
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