Fat, Cholesterol, Carbs, Sodium: Just How Healthy are Holiday Foods?

Let's face it: No one goes into the holiday season intending to gain weight. On the other hand, very few people expect to lose weight, either.

But avoiding holiday weight gain can be a serious challenge when the season's decadent staples are loaded with classic nutritional enemies: empty calories, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, sodium, and everything else your doctor warns about.

And the Total is"¦
If your typical holiday meal includes stuffing, eggnog, ham, mashed potatoes and the usual staples, this can pack a frightening punch.

3000: The number of calories in a single holiday meal A pound of body weight equals 3,500 calories

Add in an additional 1,500 calories from appetizers and dessert, and you may end up consuming more than twice the daily recommended amount of calories. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, these indulgent meals not only could mean weight gain, but also a trip to the doctor's office.

How Much Fat, Cholesterol, Carbohydrates, and Sodium is Too Much?

Fat should make up 25% to 35% of your daily calories

Fat should make up 25% to 35% of your daily calories. These fats should come from healthy foods, such as fish and nuts, says the American Heart Association (AHA).

So, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, your calories from fat shouldn't exceed 700. Because one gram of fat equals nine calories, that means you should aim to eat less than 78 grams of fat in a single day.

Think about it: a serving of stuffing and a glass of eggnog can have about 26 grams of fat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That's a third of what you should eat, and it's only a side dish and a drink.

no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day

The AHA recommends that you limit your intake of cholesterol, which is a type of fat, to no more than 300 milligrams per day.

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain: Watch Your Cholesterol Stuffing +  glass of eggnog = 1/3 a third of your cholesterol for the day Source: US Department of Agriculture And remember you still haven't eaten a full meal. You should get 45% to 65% of your total daily calories from carbs

You should get 45% to 65% of your total daily calories from carbs, says the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

At 2,000 calories per day, that means 1,300 calories should come from carbs, which is about 325 grams of carbs each day.

A serving of stuffing, mashed potatoes and fruit cake almost gets you halfway there, says USDA. Again these are only side dishes and desserts. You haven't even eaten your beloved macaroni and cheese yet.

You should limit your daily sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg

You should limit your daily sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg, says the AHA, especially if you have high blood pressure. Eat a measly ounce of ham and a serving of mashed potatoes and you've already consumed more than 900 mg of sodium.

Thank goodness holiday meals only happen a couple of times each year.

3 Ways to Combat Holiday Weight Gain

Watch your portions

Perhaps the best way to avoid gaining weight during the holiday season is to limit your portions. Instead of heaping piles of food onto your plate, stop and think about what you're about to eat. Use a smaller plate, eat slowly, and plan to get seconds if you're still hungry. But you may surprise yourself and be satisfied eating less.

Make healthy substitutions

Replace the full-fat milk and cream with low-fat or skim milk, the AHA suggests. Instead of frying, try baking, grilling, or steaming. And cut back on the sugar and butter, opting instead for honey, applesauce, vanilla, almond, or peppermint extracts.

Take a walk

Yes, this may be the last thing you want to do after gorging. But if you follow tip #1 and monitor your portions, you may be more open to taking a stroll around the neighborhood instead of plopping down in front of the TV for a post-meal nap. A 20-minute walk after a large meal can lower blood sugar levels-which is crucial if you have diabetes, according to a July 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

If you have a chronic condition, like high blood pressure or diabetes, ask your doctor which foods you should steer clear of to stay healthy this holiday.