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Eat smart during holidays

Mary Jo Brunner encourages holiday food lovers to take it easy when it comes to family gatherings and parties. It's best to eat moderate helpings, and make sure to fill up on fruits and vegetables, or you risk gaining weight.

To many Thanksgiving revelers, the holiday is all about food.

That's what worries Mary Jo Brunner, the nutritionist from Family Fresh Market in New Richmond.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal, like all holiday meals and parties, are fraught with calories and fat. But when Brunner brings up the subject with customers at the store, they often don't want to hear about it.

"The holidays are a hard time of the year to be a dietitian," she said. "People don't want to talk to me. In January, then I become popular again when people want to lose the weight they've gained."

Brunner said it's better if people educate themselves about a healthy diet before the holidays start so they can be prepared and moderate their individual eating.

Brunner said she doesn't suggest that people try to lose weight during the holiday season, but just to think before they sit down for a meal.

"If you can just focus on weight maintenance through the holidays, that would be great," she said. "Eat less and add in some physical activity -- that all helps."

As an example, Brunner said, one moderate plate of Thanksgiving favorites (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner roll, etc.) along with a slice of pumpkin pie and whipped cream can easily total 1,795 calories.

In order to burn those calories off, a person would have to walk about 17.95 miles (or 35,900 steps), according to research.

"And that's just one meal," Brunner said. "It doesn't even take into account what a person might be eating the rest of the day - appetizers, snacks. All the grazing adds up in a hurry."

She admits that one bad day of excessive eating and snacking isn't going to kill anyone, but she said the cumulative effect of the entire holiday season can take its toll on a person's body.

"It's just not good for you," she said.

Brunner recommended that people begin the holiday season with the knowledge that they will be tempted to overeat and eat unhealthy food at every turn, whether it's at an office potluck or a neighborhood party.

If people are heading to an event and are asked to contribute a dish, Brunner suggested that they bring a healthy recipe so they know there will be at least one good choice available.

"Then you'll have something to fall back on," she said.

She also recommended that holiday partiers also drink plenty of water prior to going to a party, and never attend an event when you're starving, to help keep the hunger pangs at bay.

To help people out during the holidays, Brunner is compiling healthy recipes that she's making available to people who stop in at Family Fresh in the next few weeks. She's even planning a 12-recipe program to coincide with the 12 Days of Christmas.

"The recipes will be a bit healthier for people and will still taste good," she pledged.

Brunner said she doesn't judge anyone for making bad food choices during the holidays. She just wants more people to be aware of what those food choices can mean to a person's body.

"I just put the good information out there," she said. "People can choose to ignore the information or follow it if they want. It's up to them."