Ah, fall. Cooler temperatures, brightly colored leaves, cozy fireplaces — and food! Autumn is definitely the season of abundance, with good-for-you apples and pumpkins in the starring roles. But what about when those foods show up as pumpkin spice lattes and apple-cider doughnuts?
Delicious, yes. But nutritious … not so much, according to Jennifer Anderson, registered dietitian at Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, a department of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. “As temperatures drop and the holidays approach, we tend to go for comfort foods,” she said. “And, as a dietitian, I am always concerned about hidden sugars, salt and fats.”
The combination of sugar, salt and fat in these foods really lights up our taste buds, causing cravings and making it harder to control our portions. In the long run, this can lead to health issues like high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
That’s why Anderson favors moderation, helping clients choose healthy foods most of the time, with an occasional indulgence. Surrounded by temptation, though, the average person can gain up to 10 pounds between Halloween and New Year’s Day.
“Sometimes clients say, ‘Oh, I went for a walk after dinner to burn off that piece of cheesecake’. But there really aren’t enough hours in the day to exercise away all our poor eating choices,” she said. “That’s why 80% to 90% of weight management is about food, and only 10% to 20% about exercise.”
How do your favorites measure up?
To illustrate her point, Anderson put together the following list of fall favorites, including their nutrition profiles and the amount of time it would take a 180-pound person to burn the calories they deliver.
Samuel Adams OctoberFest beer
- Nutrition: 190 calories per 12-ounce bottle (some stouts and IPAs have 250-300 calories).
- To burn 190 calories: One hour and 10 minutes walking (two miles per hour) or 20 minutes swimming or 35 minutes biking.
Cheesecake Factory pumpkin cheesecake
- Nutrition: 1,060 calories per serving; 79 g fat (49 g saturated); 61 g sugars; 520 mg sodium.
- To burn 1,060 calories: Six and a half hours walking (two miles per hour) or four and a half hours housework or a little over three hours biking.
Coffee Mate Pumpkin Spice liquid creamer
- Nutrition: 35 calories per tablespoon; 1.5 g fat; 5 g added sugars; 5 mg sodium.
- To burn 35 calories: 10 minutes walking at two miles per hour.
Dunkin’ Apple Cider doughnut
- Nutrition: 360 calories; 23 g fat (11 g saturated); 14g added sugars; 370 mg sodium
- To burn 360 calories: One hour and five minutes yard work or an hour and 50 minutes hatha yoga/stretching.
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Nutrition: 380 calories in a 16-ounce “Grande” size; 14 g fat (8 g saturated); 50 g sugars; 240 mg sodium.
- To burn 380 calories: One hour and 10 minutes tai chi or 95 minutes weight training.
Trader Joe’s Spiced Apple Cider
- Nutrition: 120 calories per 8-ounce serving; 24 g sugars; 10 mg sodium.
- To burn 120 calories: 20 minutes kayaking.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread and Muffin Mix
- Nutrition: 150 calories per serving (¼ cup of the mix); 0.5 g fat; 18 g sugars; 290 mg sodium.
- To burn 150 calories: 44 minutes walking or 15 minutes swimming (moderate breaststroke).
Snickers candy bar — single size
- Nutrition: 250 calories per serving (1.86 oz bar); 12g fat (4.5 saturated); 27 g sugars (25 g added sugars); 120 mg sodium.
- To burn 250 calories: 65 minutes housework or 20 minutes jumping rope.
Snickers Fun Size bars
Nutrition: 80 calories per serving (17 g bar); 4g fat (1.5 g saturated); 9 g sugars (8 g added sugars); 40 mg sodium.
- To burn 80 calories: 20 minutes dancing or 10 minutes moderate rowing (machine).
Halloween Kit Kat miniatures
- Nutrition: 170 calories per serving (four pieces/34 g); 9 g fat (6 g saturated); 17 g sugars (15 g added sugars); 25 g sodium.
- To burn 170 calories: 20 minutes jumping rope or half an hour golf (walking the course, carrying your own clubs).
Strategies for guilt-free indulgences
Anderson encourages her clients to build treats into their food plans. Below, she offers some simple strategies to help you enjoy your fall favorites without compromising your health:
- Think moderation, not deprivation: Set healthy boundaries, such as allowing yourself one or two indulgences a week, depending on your nutrition goals.
- Cook less food: Scale back when cooking for gatherings. For example, instead of several desserts, make a single, special one. Bonus: Cooking smaller amounts saves money and reduces food waste.
- Eat mindfully: When cooking or socializing, we tend to reach for a taste of this, a bite of that without thinking. Instead, try to be present while eating and savor every bite.
- Enjoy regular meals: Fad diets and skipping meals to save calories can backfire, leaving you ravenous by mealtime. That makes choosing healthy options and controlling portions more difficult.
- Experiment: Re-create your fall favorites at home, swapping ingredients to boost nutrition. Choose low-fat milk instead of whole, blend whole-grain and white flours, and trim sugar and salt.
- Speak up: When ordering a latte, for example, buy a 12-ounce tall instead of a 16-ounce grande, make it skinny with skim milk or ask them to use half as much sweet syrup.
- Enlist an expert: Talk to a registered dietitian, who can help you enjoy the holidays without losing sight of your personal health goals. “The more support you have, the better,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to do it alone.”