Winter weight gain isn’t a myth; numerous studies have found that individuals gain between 1 and 5 pounds during the holiday season. While that may not seem like much, it can add up year over year, and some researchers believe that people who are already overweight may gain even more, compounding the effect.

To ward of winter weight gain, it’s important to identify the chief causes, which include a more sedentary lifestyle — Americans tend to exercise much less in the colder months — and an increase in empty calories and more calorie-dense foods in general. However, staying healthy in the winter doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the treats you love. Instead, try making healthier choices when cooking, baking, and eating. Here are a few simple swaps that can cut calories without making you feel like you’re missing out.

Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream

Sour cream is a staple in holiday cooking, whether it’s served as a topping on baked potatoes and chili or as a creamy addition to dips, pies, and other baked goods. Just switching from sour cream to Greek yogurt can cut the calories by more than half — 1 tablespoon of sour cream has 23 calories; Greek yogurt has just eight — and can add the protein that your body needs to build lean muscle.

Cauliflower or Sweet Potatoes for Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a holiday side dish staple, except they pack a lot of carbs without quite enough extra nutrients to back them up. Too many starches, including regular potatoes, can lead to a spike in blood sugar and, if you’re not active, added pounds. Try adding sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower in alongside your everyday potatoes. This diversifies the nutrition and cuts calories — cauliflower is very low in calories while sweet potatoes are nutritionally dense — making for an overall healthier mash.

Bakes Apples for Apple Pie

Apple pie may be all-American, but its crust is nearly all butter. Skip the flaky shell and dive right into the good stuff — that naturally sweet apple filling. Baked apples are a smart dessert; they’re rich in vitamin C, which may fend off winter colds.

Cider or Tea for Hot Chocolate

When you’re craving a hot treat by the fire, opt for a toasty tea or cider drink rather than hot chocolate. Full of sugar, hot chocolate can add almost 150 empty calories to your diet. Instead, try sipping tea, which has zero calories, or cider, which has fewer calories and added calcium, iron and vitamin C.

Chili for Creamy Soups

A hot bowl of soup is the perfect way to warm up after a day on in the cold, but just one serving of chowder can rack up 250 calories or more. Try a simple chili, made with low-calorie, low-sodium broth, hearty tomatoes, protein-rich beans, lean meats like ground turkey and topped with green onions and Greek yogurt. This meal has less saturated fat, which are harder for your body to digest and use, and more overall nutrients to help you stay healthy and fit all winter long.

Setting yourself to a strict diet during the holiday season is a surefire way to feel hungry and unhappy. Instead, make smarter choices every step of the way to cut winter weight gain while still enjoying your meals.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17118202

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10727591

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11206847

http://www.livestrong.com/article/160226-why-do-people-gain-weight-in-winter/

http://www.gallup.com/poll/151424/health-habits-continue-steep-winter-decline.aspx

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/gaining-weight-beware-potatoes%E2%80%94baked-fried-or-in-chips-201106242943

http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/03/white-potatoes-vs-sweet-potatoes-which-is-healthier/