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Nutritionist: Beware holiday 'grazing'

Nutritionist Heidi Skolnick
Nutritionist Heidi Skolnick

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Grazing Adds Up
Handful of nuts
3 cheese cubes/3 crackers
3 spoonfuls stuffing
2 spoonfuls cranberry sauce
Turkey leftovers
2 chocolate turtles
Pie shavings

4 oz. light meat turkey
1/2 cup stuffing
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
1/2 cup green beans,almonds
1/2 cup sweet potatoes


NEW YORK (CNN) -- Many people approach the holiday season with dread because of worries about gaining weight.

CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer spoke Wednesday with nutritionist Heidi Skolnick about simple guidelines for healthy -- and guilt-free -- holiday eating.

HEMMER: One of the things a lot of people do that you really want to impress upon folks is the difference between eating the meal and "grazing." Some folks ... graze throughout the day while that turkey cooks in the oven over an eight-hour period.

If you look at grazing items -- a handful of nuts, a couple of cubes of cheese, a little bit of stuffing, a little bit of cranberry sauce ... turkey leftovers and a couple of turtles [chocolates] ... that's 989 calories, right?

SKOLNICK: Right. And the thing is, it's not the meal that gets you, it's what you're eating when you're cooking. It's what you're eating when you're cleaning up. It's what you're eating when you're walking around and socializing with your relatives or friends. It's those pickings, and that ends up equaling more than the meal itself.

HEMMER: Look at what happens when you actually sit down to a meal -- this big Thanksgiving dinner that you've worked eight hours to prepare, sometimes two days. If you look at what you eat, the total calorie count is ... just about 980. So you could essentially gain more calories by picking throughout the day, rather than sitting down at a big meal.

SKOLNICK: Right, it's when you have that spoonful of stuffing, and you take the turkey right off of the bird, right? You take it right off the [plate while it's being carved], and you have an extra one or two spoonfuls of the sweet potato and a handful of nuts. You know, that's 200 calories there. Cheese and crackers, another 200 calories there. And when you add that all up, it's another 1,000 calories.

HEMMER: On the turkey: Dark meat vs. white meat?

SKOLNICK: It's so overrated. Eat what you like.

HEMMER: Really? Overrated?

SKOLNICK: Have the dark meat if you want it.

HEMMER: Good thing or not?

SKOLNICK: Well, here's the thing. Dark meat, three ounces of dark meat has only 20 to 30 calories more than three ounces of white meat.

HEMMER: Really?

SKOLNICK: So enjoy it.

HEMMER: Yes. What about the skin, though?

SKOLNICK: Now, that's a different story, because the three ounces of skin will be about 300 to 400 calories, which is 200 to 300 calories more than just the meat. And it's all fat. There's no protein. There's no real value to it. ... So you want to go light on the skin.

HEMMER: OK. Sweet potatoes and the stuffing or the dressing ... ?

SKOLNICK: What's the point of having the day if you're not going to have sweet potatoes and stuffing? So I think that you really need to make your choice. Sweet potatoes, at least, are nutrient-rich. It's a great food, whereas stuffing is really kind of bread with butter thrown in there.

So, you know, you've got to make your choice. They are definitely calorie-dense, but again, you're not going to gain weight from having this meal. You're going to gain weight from continuing to eat from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

HEMMER: [Which is better?] Pecan or pumpkin?

SKOLNICK: Pumpkin is half the calories of pecan pie, so you can have two slices of pumpkin for one pecan, or half a slice of pecan.

HEMMER: All right, you've got some turtles over here, too.

SKOLNICK: Well, you know, again, these are the kind of things that you just have one, and then you have another one. One of the tips I want to stress is move away from the buffet. Don't sit at the dessert table for an hour or two after the meal because that's when you're going to keep nibbling. And that's where the calories are. You move into the family room, go out for a walk, get a football game going in the back yard. ... But you want to move away from the buffet.

HEMMER: A lot of people will not eat the entire day because they're waiting for that big meal. You say it's OK to eat breakfast, right?

SKOLNICK: You want to eat breakfast. You sabotage yourself by going into Thanksgiving hungry. If you think you're not going to make up for those calories because you missed it at breakfast, you're mistaken. You are going to eat the same amount plus more, because you're going to be so hungry. So have breakfast, even have lunch if your Thanksgiving meal is dinnertime.

HEMMER: What about the alcohol?

SKOLNICK: With alcohol, it's the calories in the alcohol, and it's the feeling that comes when you start drinking: You start eating a little bit more; you don't care about the amount so much. You kind of get those cravings going.

HEMMER: And we're just all having a good time.

SKOLNICK: And that would be OK for the day, but again, when it extends through New Year's, that's when you get those 10 pounds going.

HEMMER: All of that takes discipline, though, does it not?

SKOLNICK: No, I think it's strategy.

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