Watch what you eat

Susquehanna Health dietitian Kate McKernan noted that the average person gains about 5 to 7 pounds during the holiday season.

It’s a figure many may find startling.

Then again, given our culture’s penchant for indulging itself in food at this time of year, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all.

McKernan said there certainly exist ways for people to try and avoid putting on those extra pounds in these weeks of celebration.

Sure, it takes effort and some degree of restraint, but it can be done.

Too many people, she said, engage in what she called “mindless eating.”

“Basically, that is when you are not paying attention to the amounts you are eating,” she said.

There’s better choices to be made, however.

They include putting desserts out of sight, at least until they are ready to be eaten.

“Drink water instead of a glass of beer or wine,” she said.

Or, at least don’t drink so much.

“Alcohol and candy are just empty calories,” she said. “Unfortunately, they are readily available at this time of year.”

As are a variety of other foods, and a person looking to avoid the empty calories and extra pounds can use that to his or her advantage.

Filling one’s plate with some combination of fruits and vegetables instead of the sweets and the salty foods such as chips is one option.

Fruits and vegetables have fiber.

“Fiber is good for metabolism,” she said. “(That’s) The rate at which our body burns calories. Fiber helps us burn calories.”

Fiber can be found in whole grains, beans and lentils, as well as fruits and vegetables.

Avoiding processed foods, which can be high in calories, also is a good tip.

“It really boils down to portion control,” she said. “Everyone is going to indulge. The question is how much?”

And the holidays are no time to stop exercising, she added.

After all, a sedentary lifestyle increases one’s likelihood of gaining weight.

Jennifer Franceschelli, a doctor of GI/nutrition at Geisinger Health System, noted that being mindful of what we put into our bodies and on our plates is the key to being healthy.

She called for limiting saturated fats often found in red meats, butter and many cheeses, which can raise cholesterol.

The Food and Drug Administration’s move to ban trans fats from America’s food supply is a step in the right direction, according to Franceschelli.

Trans fat is made by treating vegetable oil with hydrogen gas to make it more solid. For years, it was mistakenly believed that trans fat was harmless or perhaps even beneficial because it substituted for saturated fats.

Trans fat is found in stick and full fat margarine, deep fried foods and many baked goods popular during the holidays such as cakes and doughnuts.

“Trans fats raise your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower your HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol,’ ” she said. “Several studies have shown that trans fat is associated or directly linked to heart disease and even heart attacks.”

Franceschelli noted that physical activity is important as well to helping one maintain a healthy weight.

A 30-to 60-minute daily exercise regimen of moderate to vigorous activity is ideal for many people.