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How to Eat Healthy during Holidays

We simply can't get away from the smells, tastes and, yes, cravings of the holidays. The scent of pine trees reminds me of steamy hot chocolate enjoyed after a hike through the woods with my family in search of the perfect Christmas tree. And who can truly enjoy hot chocolate without cookies to go with it?

Recent research showed that depriving college students of a favorite food - chocolate, of course - caused cravings only in those students who described themselves as restrained eaters. Since most of us try to decrease portions, avoid "forbidden" foods and search constantly for a method that helps us lose those last five pounds, we're probably all restrained eaters. If depriving ourselves of our favorite tastes only increases cravings, why not substitute healthier, lower-calorie versions of those tempting treats? Try our suggestions listed below, and don't be afraid to concoct your own lighter versions of traditional high-calorie favorites.

Instead of eggnog, try reduced-fat commercial eggnog and save 70 calories per cup. Or make your own lower-calorie version: Swap skim milk for whole milk and save 65 calories and 8 grams of fat. Use evaporated skim milk instead of heavy cream and save 620 calories and 83 grams of fat. Or choose hot mulled cider instead of eggnog; the cider has only 115 calories per cup, versus 340 in standard eggnog. Be careful with alcohol in your eggnog - rum adds 60 calories per ounce.

Instead of sausage stuffing, substitute lower-fat turkey sausage and rinse and drain it before combining with the rest of the ingredients. You'll save 230 calories and 28 grams of fat per cup of cooked sausage.

For lower-calorie gravy, do away with the butter and fat from the meat drippings. After roasting the turkey, pour the meat drippings into a glass measuring cup and let the fat rise to the top. Skim off and discard the fat, but save the meat juices. Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour in the roasting pan and cook over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes. Stir constantly to keep from burning, and to incorporate the tasty bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. Slowly whisk in 4 cups chicken broth (use the meat juices, and then add enough extra broth to make 4 cups) and 1 cup of white wine. Continue to simmer gently, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper, and you have delicious, almost fat-free gravy everyone will love.

Instead of high-fat holiday breads, replace the butter or oil with fruit puree to slash most of the fat. Try using dried prune puree, pumpkin puree or plain applesauce in your favorite breads to add wonderful flavor and moistness without so much fat.

Enjoy guilt-free cranberry sauce by opting for lower-sugar commercial cranberry sauce, or make your own using a sugar substitute such as Splenda or Equal in place of at least half the sugar. Then enjoy the antioxidants and vitamin C found in cranberries without guilt!

Feature sweet potatoes without going overboard on marshmallows or extra fat and sugar. Mash baked sweet potatoes with a touch of maple syrup for a creamy substitute for mashed potatoes. Or try alternating 1/2-inch rounds of peeled sweet potato with peeled Granny Smith apples; top with 1/2 cup apple cider and 2 tablespoons maple syrup; cover and bake until tender and delicious.

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Offer delicious appetizers that pack in health instead of calories. Shrimp cocktail, black bean salsa with baked tortilla chips, hummus with colorful raw veggies (try strips of red pepper, baby carrots and crisp broccoli), tropical fruit skewers (pineapple, kiwi, mango and papaya are delicious and look gorgeous) and crisp endive topped with guacamole or spiced lentils are wonderful choices for your holiday buffet.

Serve cream soups that substitute healthier thickeners for cream. Try evaporated skim milk instead of cream (save 620 calories per cup) or plain yogurt instead of sour cream (save 360 calories per cup). Serve pumpkin or squash soups that are naturally low in fat, yet packed with phytochemicals and vitamins.

Scatter bowls of hard candy instead of fudge or peanut brittle. It takes longer to eat hard candy, which prolongs the enjoyment and helps deliver taste and texture satisfaction in small pieces. Hard candy contains about 24 calories per piece; compare that with fudge or peanut brittle at 85 to 90 calories per cubic inch - and you know no one eats just 1 inch of fudge!

Try a meal replacement shake instead of chocolate. Meal replacement shakes are the ideal substitution for an unhealthy snack. They contain low amounts of calories, are high in fiber - which supports weight loss - and are full of valuable nutrients. You don’t have to spend a fortune, some weight loss shakes only cost 3$ per serving. See this article and implement a meal replacement shake in your daily routine. They will satisfy your hunger and stop the cravings.