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The good news is that we don’t gain as much weight as we think during the holidays.

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Dear Food Doc: I feel like I gained 5 pounds over the Thanksgiving weekend. How can I manage better during the rest of the holiday season?

Dear Reader: Let’s face it, for those of us mindful of pounds and waistlines, this is a challenging time of year. There is food everywhere — at school events, break rooms, office parties, social events and holiday dinners.

It doesn’t help that a big part of the holiday repertoire consists of cookies, pies, cakes and other sweets. Add in the egg nog, mashed potatoes with gravy and candied yams, and you soon find yourself loosening the belt buckle.

To make matters worse, research has shown that as easy as it is to add pounds in December, it’s plenty hard to lose them in January and February.

The good news is that we don’t gain as much weight as we think. When surveyed, Americans claim a 5-pound weight gain during the holidays. Evidently, we may be too tough on ourselves. A widely cited study in the New England Journal of Medicine from 2000 suggests we actually add only about one pound.

Still, whether it’s 1 pound or 5, for many of us, enjoying holiday foods is one of the best parts of celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays. The key is moderation.

After all, most of us know the difference between an apple and apple pie. We can also count, at least until we get to potato pancake No. 5. I get that the moderation advice often falls on deaf ears during crunch time, but it remains a solid game plan.

Another strategy is to opt for healthy choices like simply-prepared vegetables, salads and lean meats (watch the gravy). The ubiquitous veggie appetizer tray and cut-up fruit platter are essentially all-you-can-eat options.

Finally, it’s easier said than done, but try to eat until about 80 percent full, even if it means leaving that last piece of chocolate pie for someone else. Me, for example.

Dear Food Doc: Last week at Thanksgiving dinner, I was told the cranberries were the healthiest food on the table. Is this true? Should I serve them again for Christmas?

Dear Reader: Not only are cranberries enjoyed as a pleasantly tart accompaniment to turkey and other meats, they have a long culinary history. Indeed, cranberries in various forms were consumed well before becoming a Thanksgiving staple.

Indigenous people from across North America ate cranberries fresh as well in dried forms. The leaves were even used in teas and smoked like tobacco. Their tart acidic flavor also aids in preservation.

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American Indians combined cranberries with ground deer meat and then dried the mixture to make a kind of jerky called pemmican. This was perhaps the world’s first nutrition bar, as it packed a lot of energy and could last for months.

Fast forward 500 years, and now cranberries are being touted as the latest so-called superfood. Cranberries are rich in anti-oxidants, polyphenols, and other bioactive components. Research has suggested cranberries can improve health literally from head-to-toe.

For example, one recent study showed that cranberry extract could potentially protect eyes from the retinal damage responsible for macular degeneration and visual impairment. Canadian researchers suggested that cranberry extracts might be effective at preventing periodontal disease. There are even a few suggestions that cranberries could be used to treat athletes’ foot!

The best-studied therapeutic application for cranberries is to treat recurrent urinary tract infections. This is an especially common public health problem, affecting 60 percent of women.

Cranberries contain components that can inhibit the growth and spread of the bacterium responsible for these infections. Thus, cranberries in food or capsule form would be a convenient treatment for this very serious infection.

Nonetheless, and despite dozens of clinical studies published in the top scientific journals, the jury is still out. Many medical authorities suggest that cranberry juice and cranberry pills can decrease the risk of getting an infection. Other experts, however, have concluded that cranberries have no therapeutic value.

Cranberries certainly add color to the holiday table and zest to the turkey. Whether or not they will keep you healthy in 2018 is still up in the air.

Bob Hutkins is the Food Doc. He is a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches and conducts research in food science and food microbiology. Send your questions on any topic related to food, food safety, food ingredients and food processing to the Food Doc at features@journalstar.com.

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