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With the right food choices, the holiday season can still be a time to indulge

The holidays are all about fun, family, festivities and food, so ’tis the season for temptation. It can be difficult to quell your cravings when the aroma of baked cookies fills the house and sweet treats are all over the office.

The latest studies conclude that many people gain only about one pound over the duration of the season. However, studies also show that this weight is usually not lost, so we’re left with an accumulation of pounds over the years. The good news is that even the smallest changes can make a big difference. Heed some of these easy holiday food exchanges and you won’t be as panicked by the time the New Year arrives.

Cocktail Party Food Swaps

  • Instead of chips and dip (7 chips and 2 teaspoons of dip), try veggies and salsa and save 185 calories.
  • Trade six fried shrimp for smoked salmon and save 295 calories.
  • Swap chicken wings (5) for shrimp (8) with cocktail sauce and save 300 calories.
  • Resist the egg rolls and reach for the grilled veggies to save about 150 calories.
  • Steer clear of the candied pecans, as one cup packs 442 calories. Limit yourself to one handful of mixed nuts for 150 to 200 calories.

When in doubt, peruse the buffet table and fill your plate with salad, crudités, grilled meats, even an ounce or two of cheese. Limit yourself to one “splurge” dish and indulge in only one serving.

Tweaking Holiday Dinners

  • Good news for those who love the dark meat on the bird: There isn’t a significant difference in calories in white versus dark meat. However, be sure to trim away the skin, which is loaded with cholesterol-raising saturated fat.
  • When possible, avoid candied sweet potatoes and casseroles that are typically loaded with sugar, butter, marshmallows and nuts. One serving can be about 300 calories. Sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients and can still be very flavorful with simple preparation. Try mashing them, adding cinnamon, which enhances the natural sweetness, and using Brummel & Brown spread made with yogurt (it’s creamy like butter!). Enjoy the taste of delicious whole foods, because less can be more.
  • Slash calories and fat in mashed potato dishes by substituting lowsodium chicken broth for butter and cream.
  • Typical cornbread stuffing prepared with sausage can pack up to 500 calories in one scoop. Substituting wild rice dressing with lean (at least 93%) ground meat saves hundreds of calories. If dinner is not the same without the cornbread stuffing, replace butter with low-sodium chicken broth/stock, and use chicken or venison sausage in place of higher-fat counterparts like andouille or Italian sausages.
  • Not all dishes need to be prepared with butter, cheese or cream sauces. Steamed vegetables or salad can be a nice accompaniment to an otherwise rich meal.
  • Trade in the slice of pecan pie, which can creep up to about 500 calories, for a slice of pumpkin pie (230 calories) or two small pieces of fudge (about 140 calories for 1.2 ounces).

A few additional splurge-savvy tips:

  • Don’t waste calories on the foods you don’t love. Skip the dinner roll with butter to save about 120 calories. If you don’t care for cranberry sauce, don’t put it on your plate, because one half cup contains 210 calories.
  • Go light on the gravy. Typical turkey gravy is 375 calories for ¾ cup. Limit to a small spoon or two.
  • Resist filling up on foods you can have anytime. You can always munch on chips and dips and cheese and crackers. Don’t waste calories, especially when a gourmet meal is being served.
  • Beware of trigger foods; we all have them! For many it’s the holiday chocolates, caramel popcorn or baked goods. If you can’t stop eating them, avoid altogether.
  • Make time for exercise. It may be more realistic to fit in shorter spurts of exercise that don’t have to be in a gym. Walk rigorously around the mall when shopping, take a walk at lunch or when you get home in the evening, take the kids on a bike ride. Research shows that shorter spurts of exercise can sometimes be more effective at burning fat than longer, slower periods of exercise.

Indulging sensibly won’t spoil the spirit of the holidays. Being moderately mindful of what you’re eating makes for a healthier holiday season, with a lot less guilt. It is possible to stay on track, while still enjoying delicious food.

Happy holidays!