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5 Healthy Holiday Food Swaps that Don't Sacrifice Taste


‘Tis the season…to eat. No matter what holidays you celebrate, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll consume lots of delicious food over the next month. While these foods may taste amazing, you should still be mindful of what you eat so you can stay healthy. Thankfully, there are some easy and delicious food swaps you can make that will help cut calories, fat, and excess sugar.

Swap out sour cream for Greek yogurt

Sour cream is one of the most popular ingredients for making creamy dishes like mashed potatoes or casseroles. Unfortunately, it’s high in fat and doesn’t have any nutritional value. Substituting for nonfat, plain Greek yogurt doesn’t sacrifice the creamy texture or taste, but it enhances protein and the lowers fat content in your favorite creamy dishes.

Give up green bean casserole for Brussels sprouts or green beans

It may be a holiday classic, but green bean casserole is loaded with fat and salt. To get your veggie kick, consider oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with olive oil and your choice of spices. If you can’t give up green beans, opt to sauté them over low heat in extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and perhaps some slivered almonds if you’re looking for that crunchy texture.

Replace sweet potato casserole for baked sweet potatoes

Gooey sweet potato casserole is another holiday staple, but marshmallows and sugary crumbles make this dish more like a dessert than a side. Don’t worry, you can still have your sweet potatoes, but there’s a way to make them a little less sickeningly sweet: bake them.

Drizzle peeled sweet potatoes with a delicious sauce made from coconut oil, maple syrup, fresh grated ginger, and pumpkin pie spice. The maple syrup gives you a kick of sweetness but contains more nutrients than refined sugar typically found in the casserole.

Another benefit: the grated ginger adds zest and helps with digestion, which is something we all could use after a huge meal!

Ditch deep-fried for oven-roasted

Turkey might be the centerpiece for a big holiday meal, but deep-frying it adds an unnecessary amount of unhealthy fat and oil to your meal. Oven-roasted or braised turkey is still delicious, and contains much less fat than a deep-fried bird.

If you’re concerned about your turkey losing its juiciness, cut it into two breast halves, two thighs, two wings, and two legs, then braise the legs and thighs and roast the breast. This assures that the breast won’t get dry, and keeps the meat juicy and savory. Another benefit: this cooking method means you don’t have to overcompensate for dry meat with a river of fatty gravy on top.

Substitute milk chocolate with dark chocolate

It’s easy to nibble on lots of chocolate candies before or after your meal, but doctors recommend munching on dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. It has less sugar than white or milk chocolate, and actually contains flavonoids that can improve blood circulation and help support heart health.

A few easy food swaps and minor recipe changes can really add up to less calories, fat, and sugar consumption. Here are some more tips to help you and your family eat healthier this holiday season—and beyond:

  • Choose whole grains. Pick up whole-wheat bread, rye bread, brown rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.
  • Learn which fats are better than others. Instead of using butter or solid fats, consider using liquid vegetable oils like canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, and sunflower.
  • Need protein? Eat more chicken, fish, and beans. Be sure to remove skin and visible fat from chicken, and if you eat red meat, limit your consumption and choose the leanest cuts.
  • Read nutrition labels. Avoid foods that have high amounts of sodium, added sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat.
  • Cook at home. This way, you have more control over portion sizes and ingredients. Restaurants tend to sneak in extra fat or sugar to make their meals extra tasty, but also pack on pounds.
  • Keep fresh fruit and pre-chopped veggies on hand. You’re more likely to grab these healthy snacks if they’re readily available and don’t involve peeling or prepping.
  • Reduce sodium intake. Salt can be sneaky. Did you know that most salt in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods, and not from the saltshaker?
  • Explore new ways to cook. Frying can add many extra calories and unhealthy fats, so try roasting, grilling, baking, or steaming instead.

According to a study by Cornell University, weight patterns in the US begin rising around Thanksgiving and peak around Christmas and New Year’s, and it can take about five months to lose that holiday weight gain.

Remember, We’re Here to Help!

If you overindulged during the holidays and need help getting back on track, Frederick Regional Health System offers nutrition counseling and adult weight loss programs, as well as a nutrition and weight management program for kids. Our dietitians are skilled at helping patients with a wide array of dietary needs, and we work with health and lifestyle improvements, food allergy issues, eating disorders, sports and nutritional needs, oncology patients, and more.

Our adult weight loss program has two options for those who are ready to commit to lifestyle changes to lose weight. Both programs include a weekly weigh-in and group education sessions, behavioral assessment, coaching, and the assistance of a navigator to help you stay on track:

  • VLCD: A Very Low Calorie Diet program that requires comprehensive medical monitoring is offered for those who want to lose 40 pounds or more. The program uses a nutritionally complete beverage as your sole source of nutrition.
  • LCD: A Low Calorie Diet program is offered and incorporates a combination of healthy foods and/or meal replacement beverages and snacks.

The FMH Center for Diabetes and Nutrition Services accepts most insurance. Adult weight-loss programs have out-of-pocket expenses and new patients should have a Physical Order Form from their referring doctor. Please call ahead to your insurance company to make sure you understand your benefits for diabetes education and/or nutritional counseling. To learn more about the program, call 240-215-1474.