Holiday Food Myths

By AM Northwest Staff

Turkey, yams, egg nog and grandma's fudge can undermine your will power during the holidays.. even so there are a few common beliefs about holiday food that are down right wrong!

From the "unavoidable" 7 lb weight gain to the groggy effect of too much turkey.

We had to set the record straight so we had registered dietician Elizabeth Somer, author of "10 Habits that Mess up a Woman's Diet", tell us the most common holiday food myths. 


7 Holiday Diet Myths

Myth #1: Most people gain 7 pounds during the holiday season

Fact: The average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Years is about one pound, not seven, according to a study from the University of Oklahoma. Even though enjoying delicious holiday fare might not increase your waistline by as much as you’d expect, calorie consciousness is still important, since another study from the same researchers found that while holiday weight gain was minimal, people tend to trade muscle for fat, ending up fatter despite a minimal change on the scale. In addition, people often don’t reverse their gains after the first of the year, so the poundage accumulates from year to year, contributing to substantial gains as people age. To avoid gaining that one holiday pound, sneak in extra activity every day and focus on small portions of your favorite holiday goodies, while avoiding the everyday stuff, like cookies and chips.

Myth #2: Turkey makes you sleepy

Fact: Yes, turkey and other high-protein foods contain the amino acid, tryptophan, which is the building block for a nerve chemical called serotonin that makes you feel relaxed and even drowsy. But, turkey does not raise serotonin levels. Only all-carb snacks can do that. It is the tryptophan already in the blood that boosts brain levels of serotonin, and a carb-rich snack, like popcorn or a slice of bread, aids in transferring this amino acid across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, while protein-rich foods actually block serotonin production. The real reason why a nap is so appealing after a holiday feast is the large amount of energy required to digest it. During the process, blood is diverted from the brain to the digestive tract, where it is used to help breakdown food and absorb nutrients. You get drowsy as a result. To avoid the nap after a holiday meal, eat smaller portions and limit fatty foods.

Myth #3: Holiday parties and festivities cause us to overeat

Fact: It is not the party, but being with friends and family that can lead to diet mishaps. A study at Pennsylvania State University found that dining in a group encourages a person to eat up to 44% more calories than if they ate alone. It is easy to lose track of how much you are eating, when you are socializing. A holiday party is filled with distractions, which only increases the likelihood to overeat. Don’t become a wallflower, just be mindful of your food choices at parties and make a conscious effort to choose fruits and vegetables with a few goodies to accent an otherwise healthy plate. Also, take a second look at each bite before it goes into your mouth, to mentally log what you are consuming.

Myth #4: Traditional holiday foods might taste great, but they are bad for your health

Fact: Not so. Many of your favorites are nutrient-packed wonders that should be eaten more often. For example, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, fiber, and the antioxidant beta carotene, which help lower heart-disease risk. Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidant phytochemicals, called polyphenols, shown to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, lowering heart disease. Cranberries contain tannins that help fight urinary tract infections and possibly some types of ulcers, while hot cocoa, if made with 70% cocoa powder, contains twice the disease-fighting antioxidants of red wine!


Fact: It is true that your weight is a direct reflection of how many calories you take in versus how many you burn off in exercise. The more you exercise, the more you can eat. However, a string of big meals can stretch your stomach, which means if you pig out too often, it will take more food to fill you up, which means more and more hours at the gym to burn off the excess calories.

Myth #6: Gobble a truck-size load of turkey and stuffing at a holiday meal and you’ll gain up to 5 pounds

Fact: It is very unlikely you will even gain a pound after a glut-fest, since it takes an extra 3,500 calories over and above what you need to maintain your current weight - or about 5,500 calories total in a day for the average woman - to pack on one pound of body fat. Granted, when you get on the scale the next morning, you could weigh more than you did the day before, but the extra weight is mostly water, not fat. Excess food means excess sodium intake, which causes the body to retain water. The added carbs from mashed potatoes and rolls is stored as glycogen and every ounce of that storage carb is packaged with three ounces of water. Within a day or two, the water weight will disappear as you burn the glycogen during workouts and excrete the retained fluids.

Myth #7: I don’t have time to exercise during the holidays

Fact: Addressing cards, decorating trees, and wrapping presents can undermine your normal exercise routine, but even a little activity can go a long way toward relieving tension, burning calories, and keeping you in high holiday spirits. Rather than try to cram your regular routine into an already over-scheduled day, be flexible and improvise. Take the stairs instead of the escalator at the mall, park at the end of the parking lot and walk to the stores, jump on your exercise bike for 10 minutes while the cookies are baking. These daily spurts of exercise are more effective than lounging around through the holidays then exercising like crazy for the first week after New Years.


Myth #5: It’s OK to eat big meals over the holidays as long as you exercise


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