Q: When I go for a holiday cocktail hour, I usually find few, if any, gluten-free appetizers. As a result I end up drinking more cocktails and eating very little. How do I keep from getting tipsy under these circumstances?
A: The “holiday cheer” can present a problem on empty stomach. For parties on your calendar, plan ahead how to handle holiday eating. If held at an unfamiliar place, don’t arrive hungry. Plan on a light meal before leaving the house and, if appropriate, take along a gluten-free appetizer to share so you have at least one safe item to eat. If you are going straight from the office, that morning pack a gluten-free energy bar (LÄRABAR), a piece of fruit, peanut butter on gluten-free whole grain crackers (Crunchmaster) or a Greek yogurt and carrot sticks, and take a minute to enjoy this snack before the party. Limit alcoholic drinks by first drinking a large glass of water (with a twist of lemon or lime), then alternate a cocktail with a nonalcoholic beverage. As always, remember to drink responsibly and have a designated driver.
Q: How do I avoid getting lots of fat in my otherwise healthy gluten-free diet during this time of year when all the gluten-free goodies, cookies, for example, are so high in fat?
A: An increase in the amount of fat and calories in food is a problem in both gluten-free and gluten-containing holiday foods and treats. If you are the one doing the baking or cooking, experiment with alternative ingredients to butter and oil such as applesauce or prune puree. Replace cream or whole milk in recipes with evaporated skim milk, and try yogurt to replace sour cream in dips. If someone else has prepared the gooey goody or rich dish, portion size is the key. Pick just one of the special holiday treats and then enjoy it guilt free.
Q: I am gluten free and want to host a holiday party. Is okay to go all gluten free so I do not have to worry at my own party?
A: Every year I host the neighborhood cookie exchange and my friend Anne, who has celiac disease, never misses it. The first year, I served gluten-free crackers along with separate dips to avoid cross contamination. I overheard one of my guests raving about the delicious crackers. The next year, I replaced all the wheat crackers with a selection of gluten-free crackers and corn chips to go with my cheese and gluten-free dips. No one missed the old crackers. By the way, the favorite Christmas cookie that year was Anne’s Russian Tea cookie made with gluten-free Bisquick. (You can find the recipe at bettycrocker.com.) There’s no reason to think gluten-free food is not good enough to be enjoyed by everyone. So plan that gluten-free menu, relax and have a good time. Your guests surely will.
Q: I am self-conscious about letting holiday hosts know I am gluten free, especially with all the backlash about whiny guests wanting special dietary treatment. What do you think?
A: As a holiday host, I want to know if my guests need special dietary accommodations such as vegetarian, lactose free or gluten free. Once I was just about to serve a wonderful dinner for my son’s friends when I found out one is a vegetarian. Several dishes could have been easily adapted (no added bacon on top, a vegetable broth instead of chicken broth) and no one would have been left out. When you respond to an invitation, let the hostess know you are on a gluten-free diet and offer to bring a dish to share. Your hostess then can decide to alter recipes or purchase special gluten-free products for you or, at least, inform you of ingredients in recipes so you’ll know what’s safe to eat.
Q: The holidays are so busy and stressful and I find it hard to fit in my regular exercise routine. Any suggestions on exercise to avoid extra holiday pounds?
A: This is another problem not unique to the gluten free. Americans gain an average of one pound from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, one study shows. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends waiting to start a weight loss diet until after the holidays so you are more likely to succeed. However, cutting back on fats, limiting portions of holiday treats and exercising will help maintain your weight.
Try these fun activities to burn holiday calories and reduce stress:
- Power-walk around the mall (but leave the charge card at home) and enjoy the decorations and holiday music.
- Go sledding, ice skating or play touch football.
- Sign up the entire family for annual “Turkey Trots” or other holiday walk/runs.
- Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights.
Q: A food safety commission in Europe is allowing chocolate to be considered a health food because it is beneficial for blood circulation. Does this mean I can indulge in chocolate guilt-free this holiday season?
A: Don’t we wish! Chocolate (especially dark chocolate) does have many good things to offer, including flavonoids and antioxidants. It also comes wrapped in fat and calories. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories, so, just like all the other holiday goodies, enjoy in moderation. Most of the studies done used no more than about 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits.
Pam Cureton is a clinical and research dietitian specializing in the treatment of celiac disease at the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine.