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Be careful how many friends you invite for dinner

By: Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

 | Dec 16, 2013 - 2:24 PM |
Who doesn’t like the feast of the holiday season? For most, it’s a time of laughter, revelry and the bounty of food and drink.

It’s also a time when willpower takes a holiday. Much too much eggnog and other calories are consumed. So do you just give up, or do you decide to be a smart eater? Here’s Menu 101 for smart holiday eating.

Dr. Susan B. Roberts, director of Tuft’s University Energy Metabolism Laboratory, says, “Faced with a six-week never ending onslaught of fattening foods, you know you can’t win, so you resign yourself in advance and let yourself go.”

But what happens to the calorie count on holidays is shocking. For instance, Roberts says between U.S. Thanksgiving and the New Year, the typical adult American gains five to eight pounds.

This amounts to eating a total of 20,000 excess calories, or daily consumption of 500 calories over what’s needed to maintain normal weight. Moreover, most of these calories come from saturated fat. Bad news for those who worry about cholesterol levels.

It was refreshing some of Robert’s suggestions were new and unique, ones I had never heard previously.

For instance, if you’re worried about gaining weight this holiday season, you’d better keep an eye on the number of guests invited for dinner. Roberts’ research shows that for every guest at dinner, the amount of food eaten increases by 35 calories.

Roberts adds that if you play holiday music during dinner this will add another 100 calories. Then, if after dinner you decide it’s time to relax and watch a football game, add another 140 calories.

She reports further bad news. Gorging doesn’t end when the party is over. Studies show that after eating the meal to end all meals, you can expect to be hungrier and consume more at the next sitting.

Why does this happen? Roberts claims our intestinal processes speed up when we eat rich food, so the stomach empties more speedily. This means that going from one feast to another doesn’t allow us to revert to normal eating habits as the stomach cries out for more food. This leads to more sugar, saturated fats, sodium and alcohol.

But the holiday season does not have to end up as a nutritional disaster. One protective move is to start eating a high-fiber breakfast cereal at the start of the season. This is prudent any time of the year as fiber decreases the hunger reflex, so when dinner is served you eat less food.

Multiple studies also show that where food is located on the table determines how much you pile on your plate. So make sure the high-calorie foods and the wine bottle are not near you.

You’re also lucky if your dinner guests are slim. Roberts claims that short, skinny neighbours will serve themselves smaller portions and this shames you to consume smaller amounts than tall, overweight or athletic ones.

Her other suggestions tell us what common sense has told us in the past. Namely, it’s wise to plan a menu that has a good portion of low-calorie fruit and vegetable dishes.

Consumption is also decreased when dinner guests have less choice and variety in foods. In fact, Roberts stresses that guests find it comforting when offered a meal that doesn’t make them overeat.

Are you a speed eater? If so, try to slow down and be one of the last to see your plate empty. This usually ensures you won’t be tempted by a second helping. Besides, other guests will not be amused at having to wait and watch you eat seconds.

I’m sorry to report to Dr. Roberts that I can’t accept her advice and say no to mashed potatoes. I love them, but I’ll use skim milk to mash them rather than load on fat and butter.

Moreover, I don’t intend to skip the cocktail. I’d agree if you’re not a moderate drinker. But the festive season demands some celebration. I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay along with my mashed potatoes this holiday season.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones (Dr. Ken Walker) has published a weekly medical column in Canada for the past 30 years. Visit his website docgiff.com and send comments to [email protected].

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