Marilu Henner Driven By Healthy Holiday Foods
Mike Falcon, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Actress and author Marilu Henner played a cab driver in the hit television
series Taxi, but in real life it's Henner who is driven - to stop holiday
weight gain with healthier, tastier food.
Just in time for your Christmas office party or holiday house-warming is Henner's
seventh book, Healthy Holidays, Total Health Entertaining All Year Round.
Virtually all of Henner's recipes will help keep your waistline from duplicating
old St. Nick's.
"It's not just the holiday parties and entertaining from Thanksgiving through
Superbowl Sunday that promote packing on the pounds," observes Henner. "Overeating
and the generally poor nutritional choices associated with holidays goes on
from Easter and Earth Day to birthdays and bar mitzvahs."
"Many of us do tend to eat more during the holidays
and on special occasions," says Carrie Peterson, a registered dietitian
and instructor at the University of Minnesota Department of Food Science and
Nutrition. "That can become a problem, particularly if you do not exercise regularly
in the winter."
Most experts have pegged the average November through January weight gain as
between 5 and 10 pounds, although one study conducted two years ago showed smaller
"Do your own reality check," advises Henner. "For most of the people I've spoken
with, it's closer to 10-12 pounds."
But don't blame the holiday season, she advises. "Holidays and special occasions
occur throughout the year, so you really can't avoid them, nor should you,"
A better approach, advises Henner, is to embrace special occasion eating and
festivities by preparing healthy, satisfying holiday meals yourself. Henner's
guide to creating healthy foods for 24 special holidays begins with recognizing
that people should celebrate, and that they will not do well in adhering to
healthy dietary guidelines if the food isn't satisfying.
"The food has to taste great," says Henner, "or people might opt for foods
that just taste good, regardless of their health implications."
If you're dreaming of a 'light Christmas', here are some of Henner's general
tips for healthy holiday entertaining:
- Plan ahead - "Whether you're throwing a party or going to one, make
sure there is healthy food available to you," advises Henner. "Bringing your
own healthy dish to a potluck means you'll always have something healthy to
- Eat ahead - Henner suggests that you do not fast before going to,
or hosting, an event. "It doesn't hurt to eat something healthy before going
to a party," agrees Peterson. "That will help decrease your appetite and you
can concentrate on the people at the party, rather than immediately focusing
on the food."
- Shop ahead - Henner advises shopping before you need items or are
hungry, and concentrating first on the fresh foods that usually are relegated
to the store perimeter.
"That could help resist putting those high-calorie snacks into your shopping
cart," says Peterson. "When you don't at least try to limit impulse food purchases,
people can wind up buying and eating far more than they need. But it's important
to give yourself some leeway too."
In choosing and preparing specific foods - central to Henner's plan outlined
in Healthy Holidays - she suggests the following:
- Use better quality foods - "Generally, if you take care with the
quality of your foods, the quantity takes care of itself," says Henner. "For
instance, remove the fiber from whole-grain breads, and eat highly processed
cooked foods instead of whole foods, and you've stripped them of what makes
them healthy and what makes them filling. As a result, we eat more."
- Hydrate - "Spend hours cooking in a hot kitchen and you are going
to lose fluid," says Henner. "In an effort to replace those fluids we can
tend to eat what we're preparing, rather than recognize we need a glass or
two of water."
- Make satisfying substitutions -- Integral to Henner's 400-page recipe-filled
book is the concept of healthy and tasty substitutions in recipes traditionally
heavy with animal fats and sugars. Instead of red meat, Henner suggests chicken
and fish. Replacing animal fats with non-hydrogenated natural fats like olive
oil, dumping refined white flour for natural whole-grain versions,
and substituting soy products for dairy foods are Henner staples. For example,
sour cream onion dip can be made with soy cream cheese or soy sour cream.
Using soy-based items may not work for everyone, no matter how tasty. But you
can minimize or eliminate milk fats. "Think of substituting skim milk or 1%
fat milk for whole milk," suggests Peterson.
For the estimated 50 million in the USA who have some degree of lactose intolerance
-- including 75% of African-Americans and Native Americans and 90% of Asian-Americans
-- milk with neutralized lactose enzymes, such as Dairy Ease, also are available.
Some holiday favorites are difficult to replace, so she suggests mixing those
with less fattening substitutes. Although the avocados used in guacamole dip
contain loads of healthy vegetable fats, they're still high in fats.
So what's Henner's recipe for Christmas greenery? Blend frozen sweet peas with
the avocado to retain the color, taste, and texture of the original - but with
far fewer calories.
"Let's face it," says Henner. "When we think of the holidays we think of cakes,
cookies, candies, and every form of dessert imaginable. Each is typically just
loaded with refined processed sugar, and that's a very strong lure." To get
around that, Henner spent months trying out what she calls "traditional" holiday
sweeteners, including maple syrup, maple sugar, fruit juices, raw honey, barley
malt, and raw cane juice.
Her most often recommended substitute for baking holiday treats is Sucanat,
a granulated cane juice combination of the two sweeteners typical sugar processing
separates - unrefined sugar and molasses.
Another suggestion from both Henner and Peterson: "If you've got a baked goods
fanatic in your house, serve desserts that have fruit in them," says Peterson.
"Apple pie, peach cobbler, fruit bars and cookies with fruit fillings satisfy
just about everyone."
Once you've prepared your holiday food - or are at a party - the last step
is negotiating the table.
"Pace yourself," says Henner. "Start with small portions, rest a while, and
ask yourself if you're still hungry before going back for seconds."
"You might also try using the smaller salad-sized plate," suggest Peterson.
"Instead of piling on mounds of food, spread the foods to fill the plate."
Henner and Peterson both urge monitoring alcohol intake. "It can lower inhibitions,
which could encourage overeating," notes Peterson.
"In any event, don't drink and drive," she adds. "Call a taxi. That's what
they're there for. Remember? - We did an entire series about them!"
The Diet, Nutrition, and Exercise Center
• Marilu Henner
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Created: 12/21/2002  - Mike Falcon & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.