The holidays are upon us and that means food and often lots of it. While I do believe that the holidays can be a time to splurge, it's best to not overdo. One place to be cautious is at the holiday party. When someone else is doing the cooking you can pack in the calories in a hurry. On top of that, a lot of us go to parties instead of dinner and we go hungry.
1. Eat Before You Go.
Have an apple or a handful of nuts. Studies have shown that when we "pre-eat" before meals we eat a lot less food. It's essential to avoid showing up at that party hungry.
2. Use A Plate.
Don't walk around and nibble endlessly.
Get a small plate, put your food on it and eat from the plate. You'll know how much you have taken and are a lot less likely to get more food than you want or need. Fill that small plate no more than twice. Take a break between each of the plates to give yourself time to feel more satisfied; you're likely to eat less.
If there are roasted meats, they're a good choice, as they're usually lean and really tasty. Shrimp cocktail is a great choice for the same reason: the shrimp is lower in calories (as is the cocktail sauce). Take all the veggies you want -- they're fantastic for you and will help fill you up on great tasting food. There's always some dip to go with them, but go easy as they can have a lot of added calories. Put a couple of spoonfuls on your plate and dip from there.
Nuts are a great snack and this is really true at the cocktail party. They're filling, good for you and taste great.
The nice thing about many parties is that the desserts have been laid out in bite sizes. If there are desserts take a small piece and enjoy it. This is another good place to use a plate. Make one trip to the dessert table, put one or two on your plate and enjoy!
3. Choose Wisely.
There are lots of simple ways to avoid packing on the extra calories. Keep in mind that this means there are just as many ways to get extra calories.
Don't put anything on your plate that's been fried. Steer clear of savory pastries -- just one of those pigs in a blanket can be up to 150 calories and that's in a single bite (maybe two). You can eat a plate full of shrimp and not get as many calories. Those little mini quiches and other pastries are just as chock-full of fat and calories.
I always talk about nuts because I know that they're so good for you while all those crackers, chips and pretzels are empty calories. Keep away from the junk food and stick to real food like nuts. One note of caution, however: Don't eat the sugared nuts that are so popular at the holidays.
If there are more "heavy" hors d'œuvres they can be an acceptable substitute for dinner, but make your choices from those items in the section above. There will often be chafing dishes filled with foods that are heavily sauced. Simply put the lid back and move on.
4. Drink Wisely.
Drink if you wish, but don't drink on an empty stomach. Have at least a plate of veggies with some dip first, and then get a glass of wine. Limit your alcohol consumption at parties. It's easy to pack on added calories, as the alcohol can disinhibit you and you might be likely to eat even more.
It helps to understand a little about what you are going to consume. The higher the concentration of alcohol in a given drink, the faster the absorption. That's good old fashioned physics at work and the mechanisms of active absorption in the small intestine are no exception. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed from the stomach and the other 80 percent in the small intestine. So drinking a shot of 80-proof (this is 40 percent alcohol since by definition "proof" is twice the concentration of ethanol) would be absorbed faster than a glass of wine with only 12 percent ethanol. Maximum absorption is at the 20-25 percent range on an empty stomach. So, that 80-proof drink (40 percent) diluted 1:1 is about 20 percent alcohol and having a stiff vodka and tonic with no food on board may be the prototype for maximum absorption (and getting drunk a lot faster).
Once you get above 80-proof, however, it may be that absorption is actually slower, because higher concentrations of alcohol will delay stomach emptying. Since the majority of ethanol is absorbed in the small intestine, higher concentrations might seem to be a good idea if you're looking to slow your alcohol absorption.
That said, it will still be absorbed eventually, and drinking a number of 100-proof shots along with a greasy appetizer may cause even more problems. The slower stomach emptying could lead to a delay in absorption and make you think that you're not getting drunk -- leading to more consumption. Eventually that catches up with you and then you're really in trouble.
One final consideration is that women have less total body water, so their blood alcohol concentration will be higher than a man's of a similar body weight, even though the man has fewer drinks.
Here are some guidelines for helping you drink responsibly:
1. Preload With Some Food. Having food in your stomach will help.
2. Drink Dilute Alcohol. Choose lower-proof spirits with a ratio of 4:1 (mixer to spirit). Wine is a good choice, as is beer.
3. Drink Slowly. Alternate that vodka and tonic with a tonic water, or better yet, sparkling water or plain water (remember that tonic water has the same number of calories as soda). The hydration will help dilute the alcohol in your blood stream to some extent.
4. Keep Track Of Your Drinks. There are all kinds of tricks, but the napkin count is a good one. Take a cocktail napkin and put it in your pocket every time you get a drink. Know your limit and stop when you have the right number of napkins.
You can have alcohol be part of your healthy life -- with just a bit of care.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life! (And drink responsibly!)
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.