The Best and Worst Holiday Appetizers #540 11/27/2013

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The Best and Worst Holiday Appetizers

By Kara Wahlgren

'Tis the season for holiday parties, and if there's one thing you're dreading more than awkward conversations with drunken acquaintances, it's the array of deep-fried diet-busters awaiting you at the refreshment table. How are you supposed to keep eating healthy and feeling under-the-mistletoe sexy when cocktail franks are calling your name? We asked Ani Aratounians, MS, RD, the manager of nutrition and culinary development for Team Beachbody®, to help us navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly among your favorite holiday appetizers.

Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings

Hummus and Veggies

What's Good: "Hummus is an exceptionally healthy food, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, zinc, and magnesium," says Aratounians. "Paired with fresh veggies, it becomes a powerhouse of nutrients."

Bad: Hummus contains around 25 calories per tablespoon—so if you don't keep an eye on how much you're scooping, you can rack up calories quickly. In other words, less hummus and more veggies is the ideal strategy.

Shrimp Cocktail

What's Good: "Not only is shrimp a good source of the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory astaxanthin, as well as omega-3s, but 80% of its calories come from protein," says Aratounians.

What's Bad: Shrimp are high in cholesterol, which may be an issue for those who are watching their numbers—but for most people, the high omega-3 content still makes it a worthy option. Just be careful not to douse the shrimp in high-sodium/high-sugar cocktail sauce.

Chicken Skewers

Chicken Skewers What's Good: "Chicken skewers made with low-fat, high-protein chicken breast can be a healthy and filling appetizer," Aratounians says. "If the chicken pieces are layered with superfood veggies such as peppers and zucchini, it makes it even better."

What's Bad: If the chicken is breaded or slathered in a sugary sauce, you may wind up consuming a lot of hidden calories and carbs.

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

What's Good: The scallops—they're an awesome source of selenium, phosphorus, B12, zinc, iron, omega-3s, copper, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

What's Bad: The bacon, of course. "Wrapping scallops in bacon can potentially triple their calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol content," says Aratounians. Indulge in one or two if they're your absolute favorite, but don't polish off the whole tray.

Stuffed Mushrooms

What's Good: They have potential. "Stuffed mushrooms can make a delicious and healthy bite-sized appetizer, as long as the stuffing is veggie-based and isn't loaded with bread crumbs, cheese, and cream," Aratounians says.

What's Bad: What's inside is anyone's guess. While there are plenty of healthy homemade recipes out there, most people will opt for the carb-heavy, prepackaged variety. "Stuffed mushrooms are labor-intensive, so they're usually store-bought," cautions Aratounians. "This makes it harder to find healthier versions." Of course, you can always find out who brought the mushrooms and ask for their recipe—and then plan your noshing strategy accordingly.


Nuts What's Good: "Raw nuts can be a nutritious appetizer that provides heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals," Aratounians says.

What's Bad: Portion control is a toughie—who can stop after an ounce of nuts? "You can quickly add hundreds of calories to your daily intake without even realizing it," warns Aratounians.

Spinach Dip

What's Good: The spinach—and that's about it.

What's Bad: The leafy greens are usually drowning in mayo and cheese—and you're probably scooping them up with chips, crackers, or pumpernickel. "Although this is a party favorite, a few tablespoons of this dip can be loaded with hundreds of calories that come mostly from saturated fats," Aratounians says.

Frozen Goodies

What's Good: They're easy. There's a reason heat-and-eat apps like pizza rolls, cocktail franks, and mini quiches are a party staple. After all, you don't have to be Martha Stewart to microwave some Southwestern egg rolls.

Frozen Pizza Rolls What's Bad: "Packaged appetizers are often highly processed and loaded with calories, sodium, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives," says Aratounians. "This makes them one of the unhealthiest choices with hardly any nutritional benefits."

Nachos and Cheese

What's Good: Salsa can be low in calories and a good source of antioxidants, lycopene, and potassium.

What's Bad: Everything else. "Most cheese sauces don't even meet the requirements for being called cheese—they're loaded with neon-orange food dyes and MSG," says Aratounians. "This appetizer is high in calories, fat, sodium, additives, and preservatives—need I say more?" Nope, that pretty much covers it.

Of course, even when you know the nutritional damage of your favorite finger foods, it's hard to resist temptation when it's staring you in the face. The easiest way to avoid overeating? "Don't go to a party hungry!" Aratounians says. "Have a Shakeology® with water and ice, or a handful of raw nuts, before you head out." Two more smart tips from her: Hold a glass of wine in one hand and your phone in the other, so you can't nibble without doing some juggling. And if you're worried there won't be any healthy options, bring one with you—you'll salvage your diet and help the host out. Win-win!

Related Articles
"13 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes"
"How Many Calories Are in Your Favorite Holiday Foods?"
"10 Ways to Ward Off Excess Holiday Pounds"

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How to Beat the Holiday Blues

By Kara Wahlgren

We know, we know, it's the most wonderful time of the year. But sometimes the holidays can be too much. Too much spending, too much traffic, too much figgy pudding, too much face time with crazy relatives, too much with the questions from Aunt Betty about your love life, too much stressing about your impending New Year's resolution, too much brooding over the resolutions you didn't keep last year . . . sorry, are we stressing you out? Anyway, it's no surprise that some people find themselves feeling anything but holly-jolly this time of year. If you find yourself in a grinchy or blue mood, here's how to get your holiday spirit back.

Woman Looking Depressed

Lower your expectations

You might not find that sentiment printed on a Hallmark card anytime soon, but it's easy to fall into a funk when you're expecting your holiday to be Pinterest-perfect. "People often put a lot of pressure on making the holidays perfect, and this stress can bring us down and have us feeling worn out," says Erik Fisher, PhD (also known as "Dr. E"), a psychologist and emotional dynamics expert in Atlanta. If your happiness depends on your family acting like they're a living, breathing Norman Rockwell painting, your apartment resembling the Pottery Barn catalog, and your soulmate magically appearing under the mistletoe, you're bound to be disappointed. "In the end, it's not about the things you get or give—it's about the quality of time that you spend." Focus on the simple things that make your holidays special, even if it's just inviting a friend over for eggnog or watching Elf on repeat.

Avoid your biggest annoyances

"If you tell your doctor that your head hurts when you hit it with a hammer, he's probably going to tell you to stop hitting yourself with a hammer," Dr. E says. So if there's a particular tradition you're dreading, figure out how to make it less draining this year. "For loneliness, reach out to others," says Stephen Josephson, PhD, a cognitive behavioral psychologist in NYC. "For money stress, create a budget. If traveling to be with family has traditionally resulted in conflict, consider staying in a hotel as opposed to being in someone's house." These small changes can make it easier to stay in good spirits.

Take care of yourself

It's below freezing outside, you have a million things to do, and your coworker just left a heaping tray of gingersnaps in the break room. Suffice it to say the holidays can derail your healthy habits pretty quickly. "Because of the holiday time crunch, people don't feel they have time to keep up with everything, and exercise can be the first thing to go," Dr. E says. "But exercise is a great way to battle the blues. Make time to keep up with it." While you're at it, watch your added sugar intake and keep your hot buttered rum intake in check. "Increased food and alcohol intake can impact your mood, so work on managing excesses," Dr. Josephson says.

Watch for warning signs

Man Looking SadIf you still can't seem to shake the holiday blues, it might be more than just a seasonal funk. "When your mood lasts for longer than a few weeks or carries on through the New Year, this may be more than the blues," Dr. E says. One in four Americans suffer from a mental illness, and an estimated 14 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's a form of depression that strikes during the bleak winter months.1 "Some of the signs include an increase in carb cravings, sleep, social isolation, and a decreased interest in activities," Dr. Josephson says. SAD can often be treated effectively with light therapy, so talk to a medical professional if you think your holiday blues are a sign of something more serious.


1. Are You Sad This Winter? Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

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5 Exercises for Better Sex

By Zack Zeigler

We can't teach you how to be better in the sack because we're unapologetic prudes. However, with a few tips from sociologist, sexuality speaker, and relationship and intimacy counselor Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, PhD, we can explain how to use exercise and fitness to enhance your sexual prowess.

According to Dr. Gunsaullus, "There's a correlation between people who have a more active sex life and those who have confidence in themselves and want to experience and enjoy their bodies."

2 sets of Feet Sticking out from Sheets on a Bed

In other words, crafting a better body image can lead to improved self-esteem and a stronger desire to knock boots. However, exercise has an added bonus for females. A 2012 study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found abdominal exercises, climbing poles or ropes, and biking or spinning were activities that allowed women to achieve exercise-induced orgasms. Guys doing those same activities were able to . . . break a sweat and feel fatigued.

But since most of us prefer to (and do) reach climax by wrestling naked between the sheets, we can't rely on exercise to get us there. So, here are five sex-friendly movements to add to your training regimen so you can become a more proficient intercourser.

#1. Kegels

Kegel exercises require tightening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. They can be done virtually anywhere, and on the sly.

"In general, the more women are stretching their pubococcygeus (PC) muscles, and the stronger the muscles in the pelvic girdle are, the more intense an orgasm will be. It can also help with recovery after childbirth and urinary incontinence."

Guys can do Kegels, too. Doing them won't be of much assistance before or after childbirth, but they do help men gain more control over ejaculation (which is indirectly the same thing, if you think about it). Also, they can aid bladder control. And nonscientific studies show that guys wearing dry slacks get laid exponentially more than dudes who routinely pee themselves.

To perform a Kegel, take a seat or lie down on the floor, and contract the muscles you'd use to stop urinating midstream. If you feel your abs or leg muscles tighten, you're doing it wrong. To do a rep, contract for 3–5 seconds, and then relax for 3–5 seconds. Do a set of 10 reps a few times a day. If you're having a hard time finding your PC muscle, you can find it easily when you're urinating. Try to stop the flow, and then remember what muscle you flexed to do so.

#2. High Intensity Interval Training

Woman KneelingIf you're sucking wind after a handful of thrusts, you're going to have a problem on your hands pelvis.

"If you don't exercise enough or possess much endurance, you're going to get tired during sex—especially if it lasts more than 7 or 10 minutes," says Dr. Gunsaullus. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio—mixing bursts of intense cardio, like sprints, with periods of less intense cardio, like walking—can be an effective weight-loss tool and a quick way to get your cardiovascular system in prime sex condition.

Whatever the activity—jumping rope, running, biking, Parkour, etc.—use a 2:1 exercise-to-rest ratio. Work up to 15 minutes. A number of our programs also use HIIT principles, particularly TurboFire® and the INSANITY® series.

#3. Push-Ups

Push-ups work the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and core—all of which are utilized in a variety of sex positions. Whether you're hoisting someone in the air, bracing yourself against the headboard or wall, or standing on your hands while . . . actually, that one's above our pay grade. Point is, push-ups can provide the upper-body strength and endurance to prevent you from killing the mood by stopping every two minutes to shake out your fatigued spaghetti arms.

If you can only complete a couple push-up reps with good form, do them from your knees or do them standing, using the edge of a counter. Take as many sets as you need to work up to 50 reps. Once you can do 50 unassisted push-ups (no knees, no counter), move up to 100 reps. If you can rock out reps like Rocky, add difficulty by elevating your feet or clapping between each rep.

#4. Towel Twists

We don't know many guys past the age of 16 who enjoy hand stimulation from their partners, but anything's possible. However, 2010 data published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine about Americans' sex habits found that women are more likely to reach orgasm when they engage in variety of acts, including oral sex and hand stimulation.

"If you're doing a lot with your hands or fingers and you haven't worked up your forearms, you can get tired quickly," Dr. Gunsaullus explains. To help improve forearm strength, regularly grab a hand towel and ring it out for up to a minute. In the process, you'll also rid yourself of that embarrassing dead-fish handshake grip.

#5. Body Awareness Activities (Yoga, Pilates, Martial Arts, etc.)

Woman on the Beach doing a backward bridgeDr. Gunsaullus trains in the discipline of Soo Bahk Do martial arts. So along with being able to completely shut down Daniel LaRusso's crane kick, she's learned to develop a heightened sense of body awareness.

"When I was younger and with younger men, they'd start doing something new with their hands but forget what they were doing with other parts of their body. They couldn't multitask," she revealed. "The body awareness, strength, and endurance combined with a learning component of martial arts allow people to pay attention to what their hands, hips, and feet are doing."

If you don't want to kick ass and take names, yoga and Pilates can offer benefits; couples that do yoga together often form a stronger mind-body connection with each other. Presumably, that deeper connection would then lead to a—wink, wink—"deeper connection" after class.

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Recipe: Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Grapes

(Makes 2 servings)

Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Grapes
When roasted, Brussels sprouts develop a mellow nutty flavor that goes perfectly with sweet grapes. Enjoy hot or cold.

Total Time: 35 min.
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cooking Time: 30 min.


  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half (about 6 oz.)
  • 1 cup red grapes
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper (to taste; optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. sliced raw almonds (for garnish; optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine Brussels sprouts, grapes, and oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper if desired; mix well.
  3. Arrange Brussels sprouts mixture with Brussels sprouts cut side down, on metal baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until Brussels sprouts are golden brown on the cut side. Stir; continue baking for 10 to 15 additional minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
  5. Top with sliced almonds (if desired).

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol Sodium Carbs Fiber Sugar Protein
148 6 g 1 g 0 mg 166 mg 23 g 4 g 14 g 4 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

Body Beast and P90X®/P90X2® Portion Information

P90X/P90X2 Nutritional Information:
Vegetable Fruit Fat
1 1/2 1/2

Body Beast Nutritional Information:
Vegetables Fruit Fat
2 1 1

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