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Posted December 16, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Healthy holidays to you: Stay on the wagon with better food choices

Some of the healthier snacks sold at Apartment 2G restaurant in Front Royal are dried fruit in 36-calorie packs. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Stacy Gedney, co-owner of Apartment 2G, prepares a roasted fig with Stilton blue cheese, pomegranate seeds and balsamic glaze. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Healthier breads, cookies and candies are sold at Apartment 2G. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Preston Knight -- Daily Staff Writer

'Tis the season to overindulge. Just look at the unofficial face of the holiday season.

Santa Claus will never be mistaken as a bastion of physical fitness, giving everyone the perfect excuse to load up on sweets and the like this Christmas -- if he can, why can't I?

But if you want to take the healthy route for once, there are many options to choose from. Make sure you're all for it first.

"What I find, more often people sort of ignore [staying healthy] during the holidays," said Andrew Napier, director of marketing and sales at J's Gourmet in Front Royal. "It's that one time of year that they think they can afford to splurge a little bit."

Maybe you can splurge for healthy food, though. In that case, opportunities abound.

J's Gourmet's wine shop offers a number of things that can pass as healthy snacks, including nuts, chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and bagged dehydrated fruits, such as apricots, pineapples and apples. The fruits are popular, Napier said, and have only 36 calories per bag.

Beverages can be healthy, too, and J's Gourmet carries Fizzy Lizzie Sparkling Juice, an alternative to sodas.

The wine shop is attached to two restaurants, Element and Apartment 2G. Owner and chef David Gedney said it's entirely possible to be healthy during the holidays, and suggests roasted figs, stuffed mushrooms and nuts among snacks and, for heavier eating, turkey, prime rib and smoked or poached salmon can all be considered fairly healthy.

"Chocolate is healthy to a point," he said.

That brings up the key issue for Gedney. He said it's not always the food that makes the holidays unhealthy for so many people. Instead, it's how much of certain foods that people choose to eat and the manner in which they eat them, Gedney said.

For example, take cold vegetable platters, perhaps the most recognizable of healthy foods at a Christmas party or meal. The carrots and celery are all well and good until you decide to take them for a dip.

"The dips are the ones that get you," Gedney said. "The mayonnaise, butter; your dips and sauces ... The things you want to avoid, like shrimp cocktail."

If you can't resist the temptation to eat early (and late) and often, at least find a way to get 30 minutes to an hour of exercise per day, said Dr. Tinea Otey, of Shenandoah Pediatrics in Woodstock. She cautions people to watch their rations.

"You don't have to eat every single [cookie]," Otey said.

People with children who believe in Santa and leave food for him are in a unique position to give a younger generation a head start on a healthy lifestyle, too, she said.

"You could probably use that as a teaching tool -- look for healthier things," Otey said. "Tell them, 'Santa has so many houses to go to, this is why we can't leave this.' Encourage them to pick something healthy, like carrot sticks or orange slices."

Like Gedney, Paje Cross, who runs Crossroads Catering in Woodstock, endorses turkey for the holidays. Healthy ideas she adds to the mix are spaghetti squash, which can be roasted and done with olive oil, salt and pepper; angel food cake for dessert because it's low in calories; and asparagus marinated in a white balsamic vinegar with fresh seasonings and olive oil to avoid the butter.

"That can be fun and healthful," Cross said.

For Gedney, who falls short of classifying himself as a champion of healthy eating, his upbringing included a holiday season that always had nuts to eat on the table. Now, he may also spend time enjoying a glass of red wine, another healthy beverage for its antioxidants, he said.

Foods that are touted in grocery stores as healthy may require some careful study, Gedney added. When a food is low in something, it just might be high in something else. Gedney references cereal that is low in cholesterol, which can be true, he said, until you add milk to it.

That's something to keep in mind during the holidays. If you're simply thinking of being healthy to begin with, you're on the right track.

"I think there are those that do [want to be healthy], but in the spirit of all the entertaining and going around, probably don't think about it," Gedney said. "It's not necessarily a matter of people going out and indulging. They're caught up in the spirit of the season."

Or they're just taking after someone in a position of authority.

"I've been saying Santa needs a makeover for years," Otey said.

* Contact Preston Knight at pknight@nvdaily.com

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