From rich pecan pies to piles of Christmas cookies, the holiday season is filled with temptations to load up on foods that aren’t good for your health. Which foods are truly worth avoiding, and which ones aren’t all that bad? What should you keep in mind when facing the holiday buffet? Here’s a look at some of the most healthy and unhealthy foods typically associated with this time of year.
Holiday Foods to Avoid
When you spot these foods on the holiday table, look the other way—or, at the very least, find ways to remake them healthier. These are the dishes that are highest in harmful ingredients and pack the biggest punch of calories.
It’s hard to think of a more classic holiday beverage than eggnog, that thick and frothy drink packed with cream, eggs, sugar and alcohol. This year, skip it and opt for hot tea, pure apple cider, or sparkling water with a lime in it instead. If you truly can’t do without your eggnog fix, “healthify” it a bit by using coconut milk instead of cream, along with a low-calorie sweetener of your choice.
A beloved party spread, spinach and artichoke dip is a popular option for dipping tortilla chips, pita chips, or toast. But to make a healthier choice this holiday season, go for hummus, salsa, or a lighter take on spinach and artichoke dip made with nonfat yogurt or light cheese.
Rich and sweet, pecan pie is more than a holiday favorite; it’s a rich, calorie-loaded dessert that you’d do well to skip this season. Pecans, on the other hand, which can get buried under butter and sugar in pies, are packed with health benefits. So try them in salad, in stuffing, or as a pre-dinner snack, loading up on protein, fiber and good fats in the process.
Part of what makes mashed potatoes taste so good is all the heavy cream and butter poured inside. Try having boiled new potatoes, a baked sweet potato, or, at the very least, a smaller portion of mashed potatoes instead.
The minute the seasonal cups come out at coffee shops each year, shoppers flock to order lattes, mochas, and other sugary drinks that are loaded with syrups, sugars and calories. Make your drinks lighter by using low-fat or alternative milk, or skip the drinks entirely for some hot cinnamon tea or peppermint tea.
Holiday Foods to Indulge In
When it comes to the festive, celebratory holiday season, nobody wants to think about all the things he or she can’t eat. Instead of dwelling on everything you can’t have, consider the holiday foods that are totally fine to indulge in. When you want to make the most of this season while still protecting your health, here’s what to eat:
When it’s roasted or baked, turkey is a great source of vitamin B, zinc and potassium. A single serving provides almost half of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid. Together, these nutrients have been shown to help lower cholesterol, protect against cancer and heart disease and even boost immunity.
Loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, sweet potatoes make a wonderful, guiltless side dish at the holiday table. Leave out the marshmallows and sugar, and opt for flavorings like moderate butter, toasted nuts, and low-calorie sweeteners instead. You may want to skip the sweetener completely once you taste a roasted sweet potato on its own.
The good news about everybody’s favorite fall vegetable is that it’s actually good for you. Filled with vitamin A and fiber, pumpkin is a healthy ingredient that can make delicious pies, bars or other dishes.
Cranberry sauce is a staple at most holiday tables, and there are health-boosting reasons why that’s such good news. Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants and have been known to help prevent urinary tract infections. To get the most nutritional value from these bright red berries, make the cranberry sauce from scratch, using real cranberries, instead of any simulated variety from a can.
There’s no denying that in today’s society, celebrating the holidays involves food, from cookie exchanges to potlucks to Christmas dinner. So to make healthy choices this food-focused season, think ahead about which foods are worth avoiding and which ones are okay to enjoy. When you know what to eat and what not to eat, you take part of the confusion out of the holiday experience and set yourself up to be well!
Bonnie is a Certified Health Counselor and received her certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition at Columbia University. She works at Natural Horizons Wellness Centerswhere her and her team focus on oral health, weight loss, and pain management.