Avoiding Hidden Calories

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 26, 2005
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I hate to be the first one to point this out, but there’s only 4 weeks until Thanksgiving. That means technically the eating frenzy that accompanies the holiday season has almost officially begun.

Actually, it begins at Halloween. Last year I vowed to lay off the mini candy bars for good, after I devoured a whole bag (hey, I was pregnant), and then added up the fat count and calories. For most people, temptation begins with trick or treating and continues until well after Christmas. No matter how you look at it, that’s a heck of a lot of time spent indulging. But not all of the news is bad. First, it’s apparently a myth that the average American gains seven pounds during the holidays. Most of us gain less than a pound - but we add to that every year, and before you know it we’re carrying those extra 10 pounds that look good on a turkey breast, but not so hot on your thighs.

In other good news - well, we’re looking for as many positives as we can here - a study reveals that gaining weight over the holidays can actually be beneficial.

Researchers have found a link between fat reserves and auto immune response in animals. Apparently an increase in fat reserves bolsters the strength of the animals’ immune systems. Similar studies in humans have not yet been conducted. Fight those flu bugs - eat more candy. Has a more appealing ring than “It’s time for a flu shot,” don’t you think?

But as much as I’ve looked for good news to head into the holidays, there’s lots of sad and sorry news for those who hope to magically lose pounds before the party season. Hidden calories are everywhere. I watched someone dive into a glorious new Starbucks creation the other day - something green and creamy with about three feet of whipped cream on top - and wondered about the calorie count in just one drink. Because this, my friends, is where the enemy of the dieter lies in wait. Don’t blame the turkey and the pumpkin pie. How much of that do you really eat? And even if you overindulge, it’s only once a year. No, the real culprits of our massive national weight gain are the daily treats we reward ourselves with, without thinking of the calorific cost.

For example - and here, those of you devoted to your next triple mocha frappuccino or cheeseburger ‘snack ‘before dinner should turn the page, you’re not going to like what you read - everyone knows that creamy sauces in an Italian restaurant are the ones packed with calories and fat. Here’s a little reminder of just how much. The average single serving of fettuccine Alfredo has 1,500 calories and 97 grams of fat. You might as well sit down with two pints of HaagenDaaz. Or treat yourself to a complete pizza. To save calories over the holidays avoid anything on the menu that sounds like a member of the Corleone family.

Chinese food is a disaster if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight. We tend to think that dishes that utilize stir fried veggies and plain steamed rice must be good for us. We conveniently forget the deep frying, heavy use of oil and thick sauces that often accompany crispy green peppers or tender eggplant. In a 4.5-cup serving of Kung Pao Chicken, for example, expect to ingest about 1,600 calories and 76 grams of fat. It’s well known, or at least it should be, that the Blooming Onion, served at a well known-chain of steak houses, tops the dieter’s no-no list. At around 900 calories and 64 grams of fat,this is the last thing anyone who seriously wants to lost weight should be eating. As an appetizer it’s a dieter’s nightmare.

So there you have it. A little reminder as we head into the heavy eating season about those hidden food traps. You’ll never find me suggesting you cut back on celebratory meals - I’m a great believer in sharing family feast days. But hey, it’s a cruel, culinary world.

Be careful out there.

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