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Holiday Eating…low-calorie appetizers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, literally. Every year it comes around the same time…yet we seem to be surprised and unprepared. The plan was to get into better shape and lose a few pounds before the holiday season…right? It’s not just about one particular day or meal… it’s the whole season, which is full of goodies and leftovers. Combine that with less than optimal weather for a majority of the U.S. (discouraging outdoor exercise) and the result is weight gain. Average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 lbs. It’s no myth! It takes 3,500 calories beyond what your body requires for weight maintenance to gain 1 lb. That might sound like a lot but it’s not…Did you know that a full holiday meal, with appetizers, cocktails, a loaded main plate and dessert can weigh in at over 3,500 calories? Grab a couple of ounces of cheese and a handful of butter crackers and you’re taking in roughly 300 calories. Add two heavy-handed Scotch cocktails and 1/2 cup mixed nuts and you’re looking at up to 800 calories … and you haven’t sat down for that big meal yet. It might be a little late to change the whole meal or put in a special request with your favorite aunt … but you can be proactive. Bring or make low-calorie appetizers and swap out a cocktail for sparkling water with a fruit wedge. You’ll end up taking in fewer calories overall.

Appetizers – Low-calorie suggestions

Remember, appetizers are small ‘bites’ of food that are meant to tide you over until your meal. Of course, you can skip them altogether but you don’t have to do so. Weight-friendly options include, of course, raw veggies/fruits with light dip but will that entice a crowd? Keep in mind that the key to calorie control is portion control. If the flavors are bold and satisfying, you’ll be happy with less. How about grilled shrimp or scallop and cherry tomato skewers or grilled or roasted shiitake mushrooms with a soy dipping sauce? Buy a ready-made soy dipping sauce or create your own with a base of 2 parts (1/2 cup) low-sodium soy sauce to one part (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar, minced garlic cloves and diced scallions (to your taste), a couple teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. This easy option offers tons of flavor but fewer than 100 calories per serving. Staying with the seafood theme…thin slices of smoked salmon on a platter topped with diced onion and capers…paired with wheat or rye crackers is healthy and low in calories.

A great crunch alternative to puff pastry is using layers of phyllo dough. It’s easier to work with than you think. You can set the sheets into mini muffin cups and fill them with everything from fruit compote to soft cheeses. Another idea is to whip up a light tasty filling for hollowed out sweet bell peppers made from light cream cheese, onion and chives. If you buy it ‘commercially prepared,’ this type of spread offers about 40 calories per tbsp. but you’ll get a huge burst of color and flavor in one little serving. Remember, they are appetizers…keep the calories ‘mini-sized.’

Low-Calorie Life: How to Eat a Low-Calorie Diet

Though not a comprehensive ‘how-to’ tutorial…these tips are important when beginning or resuming a low-calorie diet. Use them to help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Before you begin your low-calorie diet:

1) Be Realistic. If weight loss is your goal, don’t set yourself up for disappointment or health problems by setting unrealistic goals. This should be a positive experience, so start with small, achievable goals. For lasting weight control, aim to lose no more than two pounds per week.

Crash dieting is bad for you! Among other things, it will ultimately slow down your metabolism, making it difficult to shed pounds as your body typically goes into preservation or ‘starvation’ mode when you don’t consume enough food. A low-calorie diet that dips below 1,200 calories daily is too low!

2) Clean out your kitchen/pantry! High calorie leftovers and goodies such as cookies, cakes, full-fat cheeses and other full-fat dairy products should be tossed out! Cast out seasonal candies and treats, too. Replace them with wholesome, fresh, unprocessed naturally low-calorie foods. Remember, you can only prepare and eat the foods you have readily available. You can’t polish off a package of cookies if they aren’t there!

3) Restock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy, wholesome ingredients. Start fresh and new. Substitute low-calorie and light products for their high calorie counterparts. Buy whole grain pastas, breads, and cereals; and keep plenty of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables on hand.

Low-calorie diet tips

4) Slowly cut back on excess calories. Start by monitoring your portion sizes. Portions (and plates) have grown so much that we don’t recognize what a standard serving is or looks like anymore.

Always read nutrition fact panels as food packages often contain two servings but the nutritional analysis label refers to one serving. Become familiar enough with standard serving sizes to be able to ‘eyeball it’ and use smaller plates for meals. Remember, by definition, low-calorie foods offer 40 calories per serving.

5) Minimize your fat and junk food intake. Doing this can and will drastically decrease the amount of calories you take in. Why? Each gram of fat equals 9 calories, whereas each gram of protein or carbohydrate equals 4 calories (less than half). Also cut back on “empty” calories. Refer to what are empty calories for more information. Small changes make a big difference. Swap your 12 ounce can of soda with sparkling water (which is not low-calorie but is actually calorie-free!) and you’ve just lost 1 pound per month!

6) Always eat breakfast. Wait – put down those pastries! Consuming a healthy low-calorie breakfast jump starts your metabolism and sustains you until lunchtime, keeping your blood sugar steady. Ninety-five percent of those that are most successful at losing weight are breakfast eaters. In addition, noshing on a nutritious low-calorie breakfast gives you the opportunity to start the day right, filling up on premium fuel, such as vitamin & mineral-rich whole grains, low/non-fat dairy products, and fresh fruit.

Now you are ready to begin/resume your low-calorie diet!