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Tasty alternatives to the unhealthiest holiday foods

If holiday weight gain has already started to creep onto your scale, start ditching the high-calorie holiday food and dish up healthier — yet just as delicious — alternatives. Rachel Berman, RD, CSR, CD/N, the director of nutrition for, has identified the unhealthiest holiday foods and yummy lower-calorie swaps for those diet-offending drinks, appetizers, sides, desserts and more! You can put a halt to holiday weight gain by opting for the following healthy food substitutions.

Woman drinking hot chocolate

Ditch and dish for healthy holiday meals

Drink responsibly

Ditch it: Non-alcoholic eggnog (calories: 343; fat: 19 g per 1 cup serving)

Dish it: No sugar added hot chocolate (calories: 60; fat: 1g for one packet)

Why: Berman warns against gulping down that eggnog. “Research shows we don’t register nutrients the same way from beverages than we would from food – so you’ll probably end up eating close to the same amount at holiday dinner even if you’ve had a couple of eggnogs before,” the nutrition expert explains. “Warm up to a prepackaged hot cocoa and add some light whipped cream (15 calories per 2 tablespoons) for a treat post-meal.”

If you’re planning on drinking wine, beer or spirits, limit yourself to one serving per occasion, since liquid calories add up. In addition, alcohol can impair your food-eating judgement and lead you to eat more than you would if you were considering your choices in a more sober manner.

Sip on these healthy holiday cocktails >>

Appetizer smarts


Ditch it: Cheese and crackers (calories: 306; fat: 16g per 2 ounce cheese and 5 cracker serving))

Dish it: Shrimp cocktail (calories: 51; fat: 0.4g per 5 medium-size shrimp with cocktail sauce)

Why: “Cheese may be a great source of protein and calcium but the saturated fat content really adds up,” cautions Berman. “Instead, choose a nearly nonfat shrimp cocktail for a light yet decadent appetizer.”

When browsing the appetizer buffet, reaching for the raw veggies is always a good move — just be sure to use dip sparingly. If there are certain finger foods you can’t live without, have one or two bites, savoring them slowly, then step away from the table.

Try these low-carb appetizers >>

Be side-dish savvy

Ditch it: Green bean casserole (calories: 309; fat: 24.7g per 1 cup serving)

Dish it: Grilled asparagus spears (calories: 84; fat: 5.4g per 6 spears)

Why: Just because a side dish features vegetables doesn’t make it a green-light food. “Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the title. Green bean casserole with fried onions can be an ominous side dish,” explains Berman. “Try grilled asparagus brushed with olive oil for the benefits of vitamins and minerals, without the excess calories and fat.”

The same rule applies to potato-based side dishes. Instead of heavily-cheesed scalloped potatoes or butter-laden mashed potatoes, dig into a serving of mashed potatoes made with buttermilk and flavorful ingredients such as garlic, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and fresh herbs.

Healthy holiday side dishes >>

Enter the healthier entree

Ditch it: Honey-glazed ham (calories: 283; fat: 18.3g; sodium: 1,250mg per 5 ounce serving)

Dish it: Beef sirloin (Calories: 274; fat: 10.4g; sodium: 120mg per 5 ounce serving)

Why: Berman recommends going as natural as possible when it comes to your holiday entree. “Ham is a lean meat, but when glazed and cured, excess fat, sugar and sodium are added to the mix,” she says. “For the same amount of calories, you can have a lean beef sirloin marinated in its own juices and whatever spices you’d like, with a fraction of the sodium and zero sugar.”

If turkey is on your holiday menu, opt for the breast meat, which is lower in calories and fat, and be sure to remove the skin, regardless of the piece of turkey you eat.

Turkey is also a healthy alternative – check out these turkey recipes >>

Dig into a delish diet-friendly dessert

Ditch it: Pecan pie (calories: 676; fat: 40.8g; sugar: 39.4g per 129.5g per serving)

Dish it: Pumpkin pie (calories: 161; fat: 4.8g; sugar: 15.2g per 129.5g per serving)

Why: Chances are your dessert table features more than one kind of pie. Before you go nuts, consider the season’s favorite winter squash. “Pecan pie is loaded with sugar – so take pride in serving a pumpkin pie,” says Berman. “Not only is it a holiday staple, it’s a relatively healthy dessert to serve when made with low-fat evaporated milk. Plus, pumpkin is full of beta carotene – an antioxidant that promotes eye health and can help fight against heart disease and certain cancers.”

If pumpkin pie isn’t on the table, have a single, small portion of another dessert. Most important, pay attention to your dessert – and every dish you eat – so you truly taste every bite, enjoy it and ultimately end up eating less because you’re not heedlessly gobbling down everything during your holiday meal.

Healthy Thanksgiving dessert recipes >>

Coffee shop favorites

Ditch it: Peppermint white chocolate mocha with whipped cream (calories: 410; fat: 15g per 12-ounce beverage)

Dish it: Pumpkin spiced latte made with skim milk, no whipped cream (calories: 200; fat: 0g, per 12-ounce beverage)

Why: When you’re in the throes of holiday shopping, seasonal drinks can be very tempting. But without paying attention, Berman warns, your delicious holiday beverage may be equivalent to the calories in a full meal, with a significant amount of saturated fat from milk and cream. Before you think you have to avoid your caffeine fix, the nutrition expert advises a slimmed-down version of your specialty drink. “You don’t have to miss out on the fun! Order a pumpkin spiced latte made with skim milk and skip the whipped cream for a nonfat treat with half the calories,” she recommends.

How to order your Starbucks drink to accommodate your diet >>

More healthy eating tips

Holiday diet tips to keep you trim
Top 5 tips to eat less this holiday season
6 Delicious and power-packed fall foods

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