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Staying fit during the holidays

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- With the holidays around the corner, Airmen can enjoy family feasts without worrying about expanding their waistline and jeopardizing their physical training test score.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat an average of 32 pounds of poultry per year, with the majority of turkey consumed during Thanksgiving.

"One of the biggest problems Airmen have during the holidays is portion control," said Master Sgt. Tonya Joyce, 28th Medical Operations Squadron, NCO-in charge of the human performance flight. "They tend to treat the holidays as a vacation from eating well."

Sergeant Joyce recommends Airmen follow these simple steps to ensure they don't overeat during the holiday season:

· Portion food ahead of time

· Eat slower

· Use smaller plates

· Prepare a fruit or vegetable platter as an appetizer before the main course

According to Sergeant Joyce, overeating isn't the only problem Airmen face during holiday dinners. Eating unhealthy foods may be just as damaging to an Airmen's fitness level as overeating, which may lead to an adverse effect on their PT test score.

"It's important to make smart choices when it comes to eating food this holiday season," she said.

To help Airmen make smart eating choices the 28th Medical Group health and wellness center has put together a list of the top five healthiest foods to look for this holiday season. Along with some of the worst foods Airmen can eat.

Pumpkin pie versus Pumpkin cheesecake

While pumpkins are rich in vitamin A and fiber, pumpkin pie or cheesecake are high calorie foods that can single-handedly destroy a diet.

If it comes down to a choice between the two, the HAWC recommends choosing pumpkin pie, as some slices are as low as 150 calories.

To make a lower-fat pumpkin pie, Airmen can use an egg substitute, light cream or a low-fat evaporated milk in the recipe. And for a low-fat pie crust, a homemade recipe without shortening may be the solution.

Dessert isn't the only area of the holiday dinner table that can be trimmed. Airmen may also choose to eat healthy snacks before the big meal.

Cranberries versus Tortilla chips and chili con queso

Many Airmen enjoy watching football during Thanksgiving with a bowl of tortilla chips and chili con queso. However, most Airmen don't enjoy the consequences that come from eating an appetizer with a high calorie and fat content.

The HAWC encourages Airmen to try a healthy fruit spread or cranberry dish instead of traditional greasy foods.

This is because cranberries alone are packed with vitamin C, dietary fibers and manganese, which can help reduce fatigue levels. They also provide the body with many helpful nutrients and antioxidants.

By choosing cranberries over tortilla chips and chili con queso, Airmen set themselves up for a healthy holiday meal that won't take months in the gym to recover from and cause unnecessary stress when it comes time to take the PT test.

Sweet potatoes versus Cheesy scalloped potatoes

Another healthy choice that won't have Airmen panicking about losing their fitness lifestyle is the sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes have a rich supply of vitamin C, potassium and beta carotene. The HAWC also says if Airmen eat the skin of this potato they benefit from its high fiber content.

However, while the sweet potato is a healthy holiday option, cheesy scalloped potatoes can be a one-way ticket to high cholesterol and a blown diet.

This dish is loaded with heavy cream, butter and grated cheese. And while this may sound delicious to some Airmen, its tastiness comes with a price.

By choosing sweet potatoes as the healthier option Airmen maintain a balanced diet this holiday, without sacrificing flavor.

Green beans vs. Green bean casserole

In addition to sweet potatoes, green beans are one of the healthiest holiday foods available.

Green beans are a good source of vitamins A, C and K. They also contain manganese and healthy amounts of dietary fiber, potassium, folate and iron.

However, green bean casserole is one of the worst holiday food options out there. The classic recipe usually contains 91 calories of fat per serving.

The HAWC recommends substituting low fat ingredients and using frozen green beans instead of canned ones to cut back on sodium levels and help balance an Airman's diet.

Turkey versus Turkey

Another way Airmen can maintain a balanced diet during Thanksgiving is to be conscious of the choices they make when preparing and eating turkey.

According to the HAWC, turkey is an excellent source of protein. It also offers the least amount of fat per serving, in comparison to all other meats.

However, the way turkey is prepared may offer problems to Airmen looking to stay healthy this holiday season.

Instead of deep-frying the turkey, Airmen can oven-roast the bird and serve it without the skin.

By making smart choices, foods like green beans, oven-roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie can make this holiday season a healthier one, said Sergeant Joyce. However, Airmen also should maintain their fitness levels through proper exercise.

Staying in shape

Many Airmen travel home for the holidays, making exercise difficult, said Senior Airman Tamiya Skinner, 28th Force Support Squadron fitness specialist. However, there are exercises done at home which may help maintain their fitness levels.

Airman Skinner recommends Airmen find time to focus on cardiovascular exercises such as running, stairs, walking with the family or riding a bicycle.

She also encourages Airmen to perform body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups or sit-ups.

"Those exercises keep the muscles working," Airman Skinner said. "They burn fat and work in tandem with eating well during the holidays."

Airman Skinner also said Airmen tend to exercise more if they create a workout schedule for themselves for over the holidays.

"If it's written down somewhere or scheduled then you're more likely to do it," she said. "If Airmen schedule time to work out, make healthy food choices and keep a positive mindset then they go through this holiday season without worrying about losing their fitness lifestyle and failing their PT test."

For more information about healthy food choices this holiday season, contact the HAWC at (605) 385-2349. And for more information about staying fit during the holidays, contact the Bellamy Fitness Center at (605) 385-2266.