What can you do to cut the calories, fat out of this holiday season?

Americans probably only gain a pound or two, on average, during each winter holiday season, according to a study published in the March 23, 2000, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

This may not seem like a lot, but over years of accumulation, this extra weight can add up and lead to health issues.

One way to combat this holiday gain is by following these healthy tips during this holiday season:

Keep mashed potatoes lean by using skim milk instead of whole milk or cream. Instead of adding butter, add a shake or two of parmesan cheese and pepper or mix in a little fat-free ranch dressing for a zip of flavor. And instead of topping your potato with sour cream, try non-fat plain yogurt, which tastes similar but has fewer calories and less fat and more protein.

Sweeten desserts with sweetener instead of sugar to save more than 650 calories per pound.

Instead of serving two starches (mashed potatoes and stuffing), serve only one starch and two veggie side dishes, such as tossed salad, green beans, mixed steamed vegetables, carrots or turnips.

Crushed gingerbread cookie crumbs make an excellent bottom crust for holiday pies. You can also use them as a topping and leave out the bottom crust, which is usually full of oil.

Have a healthy snack such as soup, fruit, salad or cereal before get-togethers - this will help you curb hunger and make better choices.

Limit alcohol. Enjoy one alcoholic beverage if you must and then switch to diet soda or water with lime.

Bring a low-fat dish to a party and try to go home empty-handed.

Only make enough baked goods to give away or use for one festivity. After baking goodies, immediately fill the mixing bowl with soapy water to keep yourself from licking the bowl, which packs on extra calories.

Removing the skin from a 3-ounce serving of turkey (about the size of a deck of cards) saves about 6.6 grams of fat, so remember to remove skin from poultry before eating.

If your favorite holiday comfort foods are freshly baked breads and cookies, substitute whole wheat flour for half of the called for all-purpose flour and use applesauce in place of half of the butter, shortening or oil.

Substitute ground turkey, chicken or lean beef for the regular ground beef in casserole recipes.

And don't forget that you are burning off some calories when you are celebrating the season: dressing for a party burns 160 calories per hour, caroling burns 180 calories per hour and dancing at a par ty burns 270 calories per hour (calorie estimates based on a 150-pound woman).

Resource: "On the Track to Better Health" newsletters (nutrition-based newsletter from the Better Living for Texans program) from Fall 2010 and Fall 2011

Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.