These Southern Utah nutrition experts have advice on healthy eating during holidays

Jackie Dodart, Executive Cooking School Chef at Santa Clara Harmons Store, Santa Clara, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — It starts with an alarming number of miniature candy bars on Halloween and turns into a pecan caramel mudslide lasting all the way through New Year’s. No one wants to sit on the sidelines of a scrumptious holiday buffet. Gaining weight and unhealthy side effects are even less desirable. What if people could have their cake and eat it too? St. George News looks at some ways to enjoy seasonal favorites without breaking the scale.

Elizabeth Hill, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist at Intermountain Cedar City Hospital, Cedar City, Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of IHC, St. George News

Living on the light side

Most success stories start with a game plan and this is true when it comes to holiday diets. Elizabeth Hill, a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Intermountain Cedar City Hospital, said one of the worst diet snafus is arriving at a party on an empty stomach. Party food tends to be high calorie so showing up hungry is just begging for a dietary set back. Having a snack before holiday gatherings can curb tendencies to overeat. This is also a good way to pack in healthy items that may be absent at the buffet table.

Appetizers generally aren’t part of a daily eating regime, but they rule the roost this time of year. These tasty delectables often come dolled up with fattening creams, gravies, sauces and cheese. Hill said people shouldn’t feel like they have to blacklist tasty toppings, just use them in moderation. A good tip is putting sauces on the side and dipping food into them to get the flavor without overdoing it. To keep on track with a healthy eating plan, appetizers should be counted as part of the meal, not as incidental extras.

Hill also advises being a picky eater. If something isn’t truly satisfying, don’t finish it. Appetizers that really are worth eating should be savored and consumed slowly. This prolongs the enjoyment and gives the gut time to register as being full.

Holiday beverages can tank a weight loss plan quicker than anything else. That’s because drinks like hot chocolate, wine spritzers and eggnog are often loaded with sugar. Specialty drinks may please the pallet but they don’t do anything to create a feeling of fullness. Most sweet drinks don’t have any nutritional value, thus rendering them as empty calories.

Lots of people consider diet drinks to be “freebies.” Hill disagrees with this premise, noting that recent research on diet sodas indicates they can stimulate the appetite.

“Diet drinks can actually alter our brain’s sweet sensing center,” Hill said. “This changes how our brain reacts to cravings so that it makes us crave more of those high sugar foods which can then lead to overeating or even binge eating.”

Hill recommends drinking plain or flavored water at a party, banking calories for food. Water can also help the stomach feel full which can put the brakes on high powered snacking.

Cook like your life depends on it

Jackie Dodart, Executive Cooking School Chef at Santa Clara Harmons Store, Santa Clara, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, fast food might seem like a good option. What if healthy food could be as easy and quick as the drive through? Jackie Dodart, the Executive Chef for the cooking school at the Harmons store in Santa Clara, believes that’s entirely possible, especially with the right cooking techniques.

Fast foods tend to be fried, meaning they are loaded with calories that can sabotage a healthy eating plan. Dodart says roasting and steaming are easy cooking methods that help foods retain nutrients. One of her more popular cooking classes involves teaching students how to use an Instant Pot. This device can cook everything from ribs to beans.

“If you use an Instant Pot, you can have absolutely anything in 20 to 25 minutes,” Dodart said. “You can have a really phenomenal dinner.”

To make meal prep even quicker, Dodart recommends taking advantage of pre-cut vegetables offered at many grocery stores including Harmons. To make meals even more healthy, Dodart advises using flavored oils in place of butter. Quality spices can help reduce the amount of sugar and other fattening ingredients used to flavor food. Olives can put a salty kick into dishes, and nuts can add texture.

In the interests of spreading love and good cheer, it’s easy for people to turn into sugar pushers themselves. It’s possible to offer scrumptious foods at holiday gatherings which are actually healthy and delicious. Dodart says fish such as shrimp, oysters and salmon make great appetizers. Hummus can be used in place of mayonnaise based dips. Fruit can sweeten salads and nuts make a decadent finish to lots of dishes.

Merry mindset

Amanda Joyce Jensen, coach at Profile by Sanford, St. George, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

How you feel can drive eating behaviors. That’s why keeping stress levels down during the holidays is so important for people watching their waistlines. Although this is a busy this time of year, Amanda Joyce Jensen, a healthy coach at Profile by Sanford, said slowing down at the dinner table is important to maintaining a healthy diet.

“It takes on average 20 minutes for the stomach to tell your brain that it’s full,” Joyce Jensen said.

Another way to break the bad habit loop is to deal with situations that trigger nervous eating.

“When you’re feeling those triggers, try to anchor it to something else,” Joyce Jensen said. “Instead of eating when you get triggered, try to anchor it to another activity.” For example, if watching TV triggers compulsive snacking, try keeping weights or a stationary bicycle nearby to use during the commercials.

De-stress to eat less

Alex Pistulka, Manager at Profile by Sanford, St. George, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Everyone knows exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. But you can’t outrun a bad diet. Profile by Sanford Manager Alex Pistulka said the average person consumes about 3,000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner.

“If you weigh 160 pounds, you would need to run four hours to burn that off,” Pistulka said. “Losing weight is 80% nutrition, 20% exercise.”

This doesn’t suggest that exercise should be moved to the back burner. Pistulka said during this hectic time of year, exercise is more important than ever.

“Exercise releases different hormones in our body that will help alleviate stress,” Pistulka said.

Rather than trying to work off a month-long eating spree at the gym, Pistulka said a better plan is to treat holidays as individual days. If people limit high calorie hauls to just one day, this can greatly reduce the adverse effects on a weight loss plan.

Savor the season

It can be hard to look past all the meatballs, bon-bons, and cheese dips during seasonal parties. Focusing on the social aspects of a gathering and physically moving away from the buffet table can tamp down overeating. Simple things like getting adequate sleep, drinking lots of water and moderate exercise can further offset the not so sweet side effects of the holidays.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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