Tips to prevent holiday weight gain

I need some inspiration to help keep me from gaining weight during the holidays. Any ideas?

The temptations of the season often come not with glitter and sparkle, but with sugar, fat and calories.

Fortunately, weight gain isn’t inevitable. In fact, most studies suggest an average weight gain over the holidays of about 1 pound. This is good news, because most people assume it is five or 10 times that number.

Still, researchers warn that people tend to keep that extra pound instead of shedding it after the season is over. Those pounds can pile up over time, leading to significant weight gain.

Studies also indicate that people who are already overweight are more likely to gain five pounds or more during the holidays.

Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge is that this won’t be easy. Accepting that in advance will help you make a more serious effort. With that in mind, here are a few tips from the experts:

  • Unless you can already easily estimate and track calories of the special treats and meals you’re likely to face over the holidays, try a “mindful eating” approach instead. A recent Ohio State University study showed that this technique can help people with diabetes to significantly reduce their weight and blood sugar. To use this method, take a few minutes before eating to assess how hungry you are, and then make a conscious choice about how much you eat. When you’re full, you stop eating — no matter how tempting the food is.
  • Learn to say “no” politely: “It’s delicious, but if I eat one more bite, I’ll feel stuffed.” Don’t let yourself feel pressured into eating more than you want to.
  • Help yourself with portion control by using smaller plates, especially at a buffet. Fill it up with vegetables or lean protein, if possible, before you add other dishes. When eating out, ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your food, and put half of your meal in it before you take a bite.
  • Watch the alcohol. A recent study showed that American adults get an average of 5 percent of their calories from alcohol alone, amounting to about 100 calories a day. That could easily increase during the holidays. Set yourself a limit in advance, and follow any alcoholic beverage with a nice big glass of water.
  • Find ways to increase physical activity to account for extra calories. Stretch your 30-minute workout to 45 minutes. And, make it a point to always park far from the entry to work or the store, just to work those extra steps in.

For more ideas from around the web, see http://bitly.com/holidaygain.

Know warning signs, risk of diabetes

No one in my family has ever had diabetes. Does that mean I’m not at risk for developing it?

Although there is a genetic component to diabetes, it’s not 100 percent: Many people develop type 2 diabetes without having a family history of the disease. Conversely, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll develop the disease even if you have close family members who have it, though your risk is higher.

A warning: You may think no one in your family has ever had diabetes, but many cases go undiagnosed. So you may be operating under a false sense of security.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 95 percent of all diabetes cases. It’s marked by high blood glucose levels primarily caused by the body’s inability to use its insulin efficiently. In contrast, type 1 diabetes is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin is what gets glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells where it can do its work.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), if one of your parents has type 2 diabetes, your risk of getting diabetes is 1 in 7 if your parent was diagnosed before age 50, and 1 in 13 if your parent was diagnosed after age 50. If both parents have type 2 diabetes, your risk is about 1 in 2.

Overall, it’s estimated that diabetes (both types) affects 1 in 12 Americans, though only about 1 in 17 Americans have been diagnosed.

A better way to estimate your chance of developing type 2 diabetes is to take a close look at your risk factors. The ADA offers an online tool to evaluate your risk — just go to http://www.diabetes.org and search for “risk test.” Risk factors include age, being overweight or obese, not exercising regularly, and having high blood pressure.

Studies also show that people with untreated sleep-related problems, such as sleep apnea, also have a greater risk of developing the disease.

Even small changes can lower your risk. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds and starting an exercise program of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can greatly reduce the chance of developing diabetes.

Early detection and treatment can reduce the chance of developing complications, including serious problems with your eyes, feet, kidneys and heart. Be sure to see a doctor quickly if you experience symptoms such as:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Unusual thirst.
  • Extreme hunger.
  • Unusual weight loss.
  • Extreme fatigue and irritability.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Cuts or bruises that heal slowly.
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.
  • Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections.

Take precautions if stuffing turkey

I have always stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey with homemade stuffing, but my daughter tells me it’s not safe. Should I stop? Would it make a difference if I used stuffing from a box?

Cooking a stuffed turkey is potentially more risky than cooking one without, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) doesn’t recommend it.

That said, if you take a few precautions, all should be fine. And whether you make your own stuffing or prepare it from a box, you need to follow the same procedures.

The FSIS offers detailed guidelines at http://bit.ly/safestuff. Among its recommendations:

  • If you prepare the stuffing ahead of time, store wet and dry ingredients separately; be sure to refrigerate the wet ingredients, including any portion containing ingredients such as butter or margarine, cooked celery and onions, and broth. Combine wet and dry ingredients just before spooning the stuffing into the turkey cavity.
  • Stuff the turkey cavity loosely — don’t “stuff” it. Have leftover stuffing? Cook it in a separate casserole dish.
  • The stuffing should be moist, not dry. Heat kills bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.
  • Once it’s stuffed, place the turkey in an oven set to at least 325 degrees F. Do not stuff turkeys that will be grilled, smoked, fried or microwaved.
  • When you check the turkey for doneness, also check the stuffing. Both must reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. If the turkey is done but the stuffing isn’t, keep cooking the whole thing. The turkey meat might dry out a bit, but it’s worth being safe.
  • When it’s done, let everything rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

The FSIS offers numerous other safety recommendations at http://bit.ly/turkeyprep. Among them:

  • Be sure to thaw the turkey safely; in the refrigerator is best. Allow at least 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds. Large birds — 20 to 24 pounds — could take 5 to 6 days to thaw in the refrigerator. Be sure to keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place on a tray to catch any juices. If you’ve run out of time to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, see the FSIS website for other options.
  • Be sure to refrigerate leftovers promptly — perishable food should be kept at room temperature no longer than two hours. If you’re having a large family gathering, it’s easy to lose track of time, so be sure to keep an eye on the clock as dinner winds down.

Limit trans fats, boost heart health

What has been the effect from the ban on trans fats in New York City restaurants?

Restrictions on the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils at restaurants in New York City appear to have slashed the amount of trans fat that their patrons consume.

First, some background: Both saturated fat and trans fat increase blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, so health officials have long looked for ways to reduce such fats in the diet.

Trans fat has a far more negative effect than saturated fat. It’s estimated that an increase of just 2 percent of total calorie intake from trans fat — the equivalent of 40 calories in a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, or 4.5 grams of trans fat — increases the risk of heart disease by as much as 23 percent.

Some of the trans fat we consume comes from milk, meat and other natural sources, but most of it is from partially hydrogenated oils — widely used because they improve the texture, shelf-life and flavor stability of processed foods.

When the Food and Drug Administration mandated in 2006 that trans fat amounts be listed on Nutrition Facts labels, many products were reformulated to reduce or eliminate trans fat. But meals from restaurants and other food-service establishments make up about one-third of the American diet. That’s why New York City and some other localities decided to put restrictions in place.

A study of lunches purchased at New York fast-food restaurants before and after the ban took effect found trans fat consumption decreased considerably, from almost 3 grams per meal to about a half-gram.

Interestingly, other research has found that Americans’ blood cholesterol levels have dropped from an average of 206 in 1988-94 to 196 in 2007-2010, and levels of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol have dropped from 129 to 116. While no one can be certain what is causing the decline, researchers believe the decreased consumption of trans fat certainly has played a role.

To reduce trans fat in your diet:

  • Read labels. Foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving will say “0” trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels. Also look at ingredient listings. Foods with “partially hydrogenated” oils contain at least some trans fat.
  • When eating out or buying foods at bakeries or other places that might not provide a label, inquire about use of partially hydrogenated oils. And, before going to a chain restaurant, visithttp://www.calorieking.com or a similar website to look up nutrition information on menu items.
  • Even better: Set a weekly goal to eat out less, and prepare food at home with healthy ingredients.