Whether you’re trying to avoid gaining the dreaded “Festive 15” or want to adopt healthier eating practices to avoid systemic inflammation, pre-diabetes and heart disease, eating well during December can be tricky. With holiday parties, happy hours and family events, many Americans will enter 2020 at least two pounds—and up to 15 pounds–heavier than they were before Thanksgiving.
We’ve scoured the recipe books and popular food trends to compile this list of holiday foods to avoid at all costs. We’re also offering a healthier swap so you can enjoy a tasty treat without endangering your waistline and your health.
Here are 7 seasonal foods to avoid:
- Seasonal Coffee Drinks
Oh, Starbucks! Why must you tempt us so? With delicious seasonal drinks, including the Peppermint Mocha, Eggnog Latte and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, it can be challenging to stay on track with your caloric consumption. With their flavorful (and sweet!) syrup infusions, these drinks—even the smallest size—pack a huge caloric punch and can elevate your blood sugar. That Grande (that’s medium in Starbucks-speak) Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle comes in at 455 calories―133 of them from fat!
Try this instead: A Grande Caffe Latte with nonfat milk has only 130 calories, with only 5 calories from fat―you can even add two pumps of sweetened syrup for flavor (20 calories per pump) and still come in under 200 calories.
Combining alcohol with this rich, traditional holiday beverage packs a double punch to your health. Not only is it like drinking your dessert, but also the added alcohol is recognized as a toxin by your body, which means your liver stops all other processes to metabolize and eliminate it. That means your liver will stop breaking down any additional fat you’ve eaten and store it as subcutaneous fat.
Try this instead: Using a cup of skim milk or cashew cream as a base, skip the alcohol and instead include several teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and maybe a tablespoon of light eggnog to give it holiday flair.
- Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
Why take the nutritious advantages of the sweet potato―calcium, iron, vitamin A and beta-carotene―and hide them under so much butter, brown sugar and marshmallow? You’re basically taking the healthy out of a healthy dish, causing your blood sugar to spike just as your body is working to break down a carbohydrate-heavy load.
Try this instead: Cut that delicious sweet potato in half, coat it with olive oil, sprinkle some cinnamon on the inner halves and bake them face down for 40 minutes at 425˚F.
- Canned Cranberry Sauce
Filled with high fructose corn syrup, canned cranberry sauce is super sweet and can cause your insulin to spike, encouraging your body to store additional fat just when you don’t need any more of it.
Try this instead: Without the processing and sweetener, fresh cranberries pack a powerful nutritional punch. Full of Vitamins E, K and C, they’re also high in fiber. Make your own cranberry dish to your specifications, look for a cranberry salsa recipe online or add green onions, a jalapeno pepper, the juice from 2 limes and just a hint of sugar.
- Turkey Skin
While the lean meat beneath is nutritious and healthy, turkey skin—in a ½ cup serving size–packs nearly the same amount of fat as ½ stick of butter. It’s a one-way ticket to increased levels of cholesterol.
Try this instead: Cut both fat and calories by opting for white meat turkey with the skin removed. And when planning your holiday meal, remember that roasted turkey is the healthiest prep method.
- Mulled Wine
If you’re going to drink alcohol, red wine is a nutritionist’s top choice because of its antioxidants and flavonoids, including quercetin and resveratrol. But when you mull it—which means adding sugar, spices, honey and brandy—you’re essentially creating a hangover that your liver doesn’t want or need.
Try this instead: Make a healthy, delicious red wine spritzer by adding seltzer water in a 1:1 ratio, along with a few raspberries or blueberries—creating a festive holiday drink that’s healthier than the option above that you may have been mulling over!
- Sugar Cookies
While preparing them may bring back pleasant childhood memories, sugar cookies aren’t a nutritious holiday dessert. One 3-inch diameter sugar cookie—before you add sprinkles and icing—has about 150 calories. That’s the equivalent caloric value of walking for 40 minutes, biking for 20 minutes or running for 14 minutes. And when you add icing and other toppings, it can double that calorie count. Plus, the processed ingredients―white sugar and flour―contribute to systemic inflammation and make your blood sugar skyrocket.
Try this instead: Dark chocolate bark is a crunchy, sweet treat with a lot fewer calories and the added benefit of antioxidants. Make your own and opt for added cranberries, cherries, blueberries or toasted almonds to jazz it up!