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UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Senior Director
Telephone: 412-586-9764

Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D.  

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D.

UPMC Media Relations 

Healthy Holiday Cooking And Eating Tips From UPMC’s Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom: You Can Eat Right And Enjoy It Too

PITTSBURGH, November 6, 2006 — It is possible to enjoy the tempting offerings of the holiday season and still manage your weight, according to nutrition and weight management expert Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., director of the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) Weight Management Center.

“Healthy holiday cooking doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your favorite foods or flavors,” Dr. Fernstrom said. “There are some small and easy steps that can help you keep unwanted pounds off while keeping you in the spirit of the season. With a little pre-planning, you can stay in control while enjoying your holiday eating and keeping your activity level up.”

Dr. Fernstrom’s tips for trimming hidden fat and calories in foods that you prepare:

  • Substitute low-fat (not non-fat) sour cream or yogurt in your dips.
  • Use condensed skim milk, 2% or whole milk, instead of half-and-half or cream.
  • Substitute half of the fat called for in a recipe with applesauce.
  • Avoid recipes with “extra rich” in the name – this always means more fat added.
  • Refrigerate chicken or beef-based soups overnight, and skim the hardened fat off the top.
  • Thicken gravy with tapioca (mixed with a little water) instead of butter or margarine.
  • Stick with clear soups. For a great “cream” soup, add milk or condensed skim milk instead of cream.
  • Cook poultry with the skin on, and then remove it before eating – keeps the meat moist.
  • Use reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise (not non-fat) when called for.
  • Look for reduced-fat cheeses (not non-fat) for sauces and toppings.
  • Sprinkle a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese instead of a handful of shredded full-fat cheddar or mozzarella cheese – lots of cheese flavor with almost no fat and few calories.
  • Use an oil cooking spray on the pan before adding additional oil – you’ll reduce the oil used, maintain flavor and your food won’t stick.
  • Use a butter spray to coat your vegetables before serving, instead of butter or margarine.
  • Add raisins, dried cranberries and pretzel sticks to a bowl of shelled nuts to reduce both calories and fat.
  • Use small cookie cutters (no one needs cookies the size of your head!).
  • Top a cake with powdered sugar, cinnamon or cocoa instead of a thick frosting.
  • Make your serving size of baked goods half of what’s listed in the recipe (if a recipe recommends 12 brownies, cut them into 24 pieces).
  • Serve small baked potatoes – sweet or white – and avoid mashing with cream and butter. Keep the “fixins” on the side.
  • Chew sugarless gum while you cook – keeps your mouth busy with a non-food activity, so you are not as tempted to sample the fare.
  • Make a one-crust pie or try a streusel topping instead.

Dr. Fernstrom’s tips for managing your weight while dining away from home:

  • There are no bad foods – just bad portions. Pre-plan your portion sizes.
  • Become a “taster” – take a bite, and throw the rest out (or leave it on your plate).
  • Maximize your sampling – four bites make an hors d’oeuvre: take one bite of four different types, and you have variety while saving calories.
  • Don’t go to a party “overly” hungry – a small non-fat sugar-free yogurt or a cup of a clear soup will keep you filled up enough to maintain control.
  • Share an entree with your dining companion. Each order a salad or clear soup first.
  • Order two appetizers instead of an entree.
  • Share a dessert with at least one other person – sharing with two or three is even better.
  • Stay away from breads and rolls – limit yourself to one – you never get tired of bread, so you have to pre-plan your choice. Take the basket off the table if necessary.
  • Always ask for salad dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing and scoop up some greens. You get flavor in every bite.
  • Watch your consumption of rice and pasta – think of these as a “side dish,” and add some lean protein while you cut down on the serving size.
  • In a restaurant, explain to the server politely, but firmly, your preferences for sauces and dressings served on the side, and meat/chicken/poultry/fish grilled without added fat.
  • “Dilute” your entrees and appetizers with grilled or steamed vegetables – they fill you up!
  • When at a buffet, cruise up and down the line and pre-plan your eating.
  • Do not feel obligated to please your host by cleaning your plate. Try each item, and if pressed, simply say you are saving room for the next course.
  • Do not refuse food because you’re “on a diet.” This is the fastest way for people to coerce you into eating more than you would choose.
  • Ask for milk instead of cream for your coffee or tea.
  • Limit your consumption of eggnog to that made with reduced fat or skim milk.
  • Cut the calories in fruit juices by making a spritzer – half juice/half sparkling water.
  • If you consume alcohol, limit your intake to one or two servings in an evening, (a serving is a 12-oz beer, 6 oz wine, 1 oz of hard liquor). “Stretch” your alcohol calories by selecting non-calorie mixers (diet mixers, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix), or making a wine spritzer with half wine/half sparkling water. Limit your intake to no more than one serving per hour.
  • Keep your physical activity up! Instead of napping after a meal, take a 20 to 40 minute walk. Wherever you are, add extra steps in your day – get off the elevator a flight or two (or more) too soon and climb the stairs; walk up an escalator; park far away in the lot and walk to the store.

Dr. Fernstrom has spent the past 24 years in the clinic and laboratory studying and treating obesity and nutrition. A recognized expert in the field of appetite and weight control, Dr. Fernstrom is a favorite of the media, most notably as an NBC Today Show contributor, with more than 30 highly popular segments on nutrition, weight loss, diet trends and healthful eating. Her research has focused on the biological and psychological factors contributing to weight loss – whether the loss consists of just a few pounds or several hundred. As a clinician, she views obesity as a chronic disease that can be managed, but not cured, through lifestyle change, pharmacotherapy and in some cases, surgery. For more information on weight management, visit the UPMC Weight Management Center at

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