Tips for healthy eating at holiday buffets

LOS ANGELES "The bottom line when you're at a party is first, never go in hungry. You go in hungry, you have a drink, all bets are off," said J.J. Virgin, a nutritionist.

Virgin is trying to help party-goers lighten up the holidays calorie-wise by learning how to navigate the dinner spread.

"The first thing you've got to remember is everything counts," Virgin said.

Remembering that golden rule is difficult when you're standing around grazing, so here's some of the best and worst choices at the table, beginning with dip.

If it is a choice between hummus and spinach-artichoke dip, choose heart-healthy, high-fiber hummus rather than the latter which is often laced with cheese and mayo.

Dipping with crudites rather than crackers is a nice way to get your produce quotient as well, and it will also help fill you up.

The shrimp cocktail gets high marks, as does the smoked salmon, but exercise restraint when choosing pigs in a blanket or bacon-wrapped goodies. However, if you've got a pig-in-a-blanket and a bacon-wrapped scallop, Virgin says to go with the bacon-wrapped scallop because the relatively small amount of bacon provides loads of flavor, while the scallop is a low-fat protein source that also contains omega three fats.

Meatballs filled with bread and eggs are considered a small-dose food, and there's nothing petite about the mini quiche.

"Do we really know what's in there? And most of those little quiches, little pies in disguise, are about a hundred calories to pop," Virgin said.

While nuts contain protein, fiber and good fats, the serving size is key.

Virgin recommends eating only about 10 nuts, as opposed to two to three handfuls, which average about 600 calories.

Finally, everything that research has shown us about overeating is that the closer you are to the big table, the more likely you are to overeat.

So, get what you want, get something good and interesting in small portions, and then step away from the table, far, far away.

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