Holiday Meal Planning

Thanksgiving is over – but the Christmas holiday is only just beginning.  Stores are packed, UPS and FedEx are working overtime and holiday baking is in full swing.  Amidst this exciting, yet often chaotic time of year, it is important to remember to stick to a healthy overall meal plan, to keep your energy levels up and immunity strong.  Nourishing yourself with healthy foods, along with getting regular moderate intensity physical activity and plenty of sleep and relaxation time are usually your best bets to warding off sicknesses, managing stress and maintaining your energy levels.

Speaking of immunity, if you still have Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator, it is past time to throw them out.  According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), cooked meat and poultry leftovers are only fresh in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.  Cooked stuffing is fresh about 3-4 days, too.  Gravy is only good for 1-2 days, so definitely throw any away if it is still lingering in your refrigerator.  For more information on food storage safety, visit

As for the rest of your meal plan, too often, Americans throw a healthy meal plan out the window when the holidays arrive.  However, try to avoid the “all or nothing” mentality.  You can still enjoy a few indulgences here and there, while sticking to an underlying healthy meal plan.  For instance, it is fine to sample the holiday treats that local stores may offer, such as hot chocolate, cookies and pastries.  And, it is even fine to purchase a few for you and your friends or family to enjoy together.  Your body will best manage these discretionary (extra) calories if you are healthy and managing your weight with a basic healthy meal plan.

So, starting your day with a balanced breakfast is a good way to begin.  Think whole grains (in cereals, English muffins, breads, bagels), fruits and proteins.  Combining proteins with carbohydrates at all meals and snacks is the best way to manage hunger and satiety levels, reducing the changes that you will have strong cravings or urges to overeat later in the day.  Popular, healthful breakfast proteins include lowfat dairy products (i.e. milk, yogurt and cheese), dairy alternatives (i.e. soymilk), peanut butter, eggs and egg whites, lean meats and meat alternatives (i.e. soy sausage).  You also get some protein from grains.  Many grain products like cold cereals and breakfast bars contain extra protein (often from milk or soy protein ingredients) and fiber, too.  Fiber is especially helpful in preventing disease and managing satiety levels.

So, as you prepare for a day at the office, at the mall or at home doing chores, remember to keep your breakfast balanced.  Continue to eat healthfully throughout the day, too, and know that in moderate amounts, your body will be able to handle some discretionary calories along the way.  As with any time of the year, we should all focus on balance, variety and moderation to keep us healthy.

Be well,


Recent Research Reveals Sugar More Addictive than Cocaine

Hi everyone, Kimberly Krueger, here In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about the addictive nature of sugar. I think the research findings are important and fascinating, so I’m going to share it with you.

Researchers have learned that rats overwhelmingly prefer water sweetened with saccharin to cocaine, a finding that demonstrates the addictive potential of sweets.

Offering larger doses of cocaine did not alter the rats’ preference for saccharin, according to the report.

Scientists said the study, presented this week in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, might help explain the rise in human obesity, which has been driven in part by an over consumption of sugary foods.

In the experiment, 43 rats were placed in cages with two levers, one of which delivered an intravenous dose of cocaine and the other a sip of highly sweetened water. At the end of the 15-day trial, 40 of the rats consistently chose saccharin instead of water.

When sugar water was substituted for the saccharin solution the results were the same, researchers said.

Further testing subjected 24 cocaine-addicted rats to a similar trial. At the end of 10 days, the majority of them preferred saccharin.

“Intense sweetness is more rewarding to the rats than cocaine,” said coauthor Magalie Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux in France. “Excess sugar could increase levels of the brain chemical dopamine, leading to a craving for sweets,” she said.

Lenoir said mammalian taste receptors evolved in an environment that lacked sugar and so were not adapted to the high concentrations of sweets found in the modern diet. Cocaine also increases dopamine, but through a different brain mechanism.

So, there we have it folks, the research is in: eating sugar causes cravings for more sugar.  *Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A coordinator of the Weight A Second weight management program at Southlake Center suggests the following tips to decrease sugar cravings:

      1.    Frequent Meals. Eating meals at regular intervals will prevent drops in blood sugar that trigger cravings.

      2.   Eat Whole Foods. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains contain some naturally occurring sugars, but they also offer dietary fiber and important nutrients to help balance blood sugar.

      3.   The More Natural, The Better. Choose an orange, rather than orange juice. Not only will you get less sugar, but you’ll also benefit from more nutrients.

      4.   Beware Of Fat-Free Labels. These foods actually contribute to health and weight problems. What the labels don’t tell you is that these products contain more sugar – sometimes two or more times that found in the “regular” versions.

      5.   Assess.  Are you actually just thirsty, or sleepy?  Oftentimes sugar cravings are just misread signals for other needs.

Hope these suggestions help.  And if you would like to know more about saying No to Diets and Yes to life, be sure to contact us at Southlake and we’ll get you started right away.

Be well,


*Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A is certified through ACE as a personal trainer and group instructor.  She is also certified through the NCBDN as a weight loss/nutrition instructor. Tiffany is provisionally licensed by the NC Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.  She is Southlake’s newest team member and is coordinator for Southlake’s Weight A Second Weight Management Program.

Holiday Tips for Managing Your Weight and Hunger

The holiday spirit is in the air.  And, for many people, just the thought of the holiday season brings on anxiety related to food.  Many worry about the upcoming holiday parties, extra treats around the office, gift baskets filled with chocolates and cheese and of course all the free samples of holiday fare at your local grocery stores.

You can, however, take comfort in the fact that it is possible to stick to a healthy meal plan over the upcoming weeks.  The holiday season does not have to inevitably bring with it a fluctuation in your body weight.

To help you reduce your anxiety, here are some tips to help manage your weight and hunger, this season:

  • Try to maintain a healthy, balanced meal plan from day to day, even if you know you are going to a party or have extra treats around the office or home.  This will ensure that you do not fill up on nutrient-poor, high sugar, high fat foods.  If you are hungry for a treat, dessert or extra snack, you can fit it into your meal plan, as long as you have eaten well balanced meals and snacks that day.
  • Resist the urge to skip meals.  This will only lay the foundation for increased hunger and cravings later in the day, therefore increasing the possibility of overeating later.
  • Balance your carbohydrates and proteins at meals and snacks.  For instance, if you are going to have a piece of pie, have a small glass of lowfat milk with it.  Or, if you choose the cheese appetizer, have some whole grain crackers or fruit with it.
  • Prepare meals with lowfat dairy, lean meats, whole fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned), whole grains and healthy fats (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds).
  • Lighten traditional holiday recipes by reducing fat, sugar and sodium. This can be done by using egg substitutes instead of whole eggs, lowfat dairy products rather than whole fat versions, using lean cuts of meat and decreasing the amount of added sugars and salt you add to recipes and meals.
  • An average amount of 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day will help increase your fiber intake and ensure you are getting plenty of phytonutrients (plant compounds that help prevent disease).  Depending on your personal nutrient needs, you may need slightly more or slightly less fruits or vegetables daily.  A dietitian can help you determine your personal needs. Choose colorful produce for the best nutrient balance.  Great produce options include broccoli, berries, spinach, tomatoes and winter squash.
  • Try not to classify foods as “good” or “bad”.  Most foods can fit in healthfully to a balanced meal plan.  Placing foods into positive or negative categories can be detrimental to your overall meal plan, leading to feelings of anxiety if you break out of what you consider safe and unsafe foods for your diet plan.  In other words, it is better to set goals to increase your fruit intake, for instance, or to decrease mindless grazing on food, rather than to require yourself to eat one apple a day or to avoid all desserts.

Julie Whittington is a Registered Dietitian in the Lake Norman area.  Reach her at