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Holiday meals don’t need to be unhealthy to be tasty

LOS ANGELES — Sitting down to a high-fat, high-calorie holiday meal is a longstanding tradition that Health Net, Inc. hopes Americans are willing to rethink. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Americans, on average, gain 1 to 2 pounds during the holidays. While that sounds like a manageable increase, research has shown that this added weight tends to take up permanent residence and accumulates every holiday season.

However, by embracing some simple, health-focused changes to the traditional holiday meal, good health and good times can joyfully coexist.

Rethink your Plate

As a starting point, Health Net suggests visiting the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Choose My Plate” website, where you can better visualize what your holiday-plate portions ideally should look like.

A traditional holiday meal is likely to be heavy on protein and grains — think prime rib and gravy-drenched stuffing.

Applying the “MyPlate” approach, half of your holiday plate should be home to fruits and vegetables. The other half of your plate should be devoted to lean protein and grains. And don’t forget to include dairy — preferably of the fat-free or low-fat variety — with your holiday meal.

The USDA also offers these tips to increase the health quotient of your holiday meals:

Switch up the sweets: Serve up bowls of fresh fruit — or baked apples with cinnamon — rather than slicing them into calorie-heavy desserts. Or set up a dessert bar where guests can create their own fruit and low-fat yogurt parfaits.

Give butter the boot: When holiday baking calls for butter or oil, pureed fruits — such as unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas — can be tapped as healthier alternatives.

Reach for wheat: Wherever possible, opt for whole wheat flour rather than white flour.

Show eggnog the exit: Traditional holiday beverages can weigh you down. Instead, say cheers with low-calorie options, such as water with lemon or lime slices, or seltzer water with a splash of 100-percent fruit juice.

Look for sugar and salt stand-ins: In recipes calling for sugar and salt, spices and herbs — such as cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg or sage — often can step in as sound replacements.

Know that skim is in: While the holidays and heavy cream seem to go hand-in-hand, in the interest of improved health, switch to skim evaporated milk.

Go easy on the gravy: Because it’s an unassuming liquid, there’s a tendency to forget that gravy is far from calorie-free. Consequently, think of a drizzle — rather than a downpour — when dipping the gravy ladle.

Pick a lean protein: When selecting a meat to serve for your holiday meal, lean toward lean proteins, such as turkey, roast beef, fresh ham, cod or flounder. And, before cooking your chosen protein, be sure to trim any excess fat.

If you have a favorite holiday dish that you’d like to make over with better health in mind, check out this SuperTracker.

Health Net, Inc.