6 Healthy Holiday Food Swaps That You’ll Love!

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The holiday season is a time to relax and create positive memories with friends, family, and loved ones. You’ve worked so hard all to eat right, exercise, and establish healthy habits. Unfortunately, the holiday season can be nightmare for those looking to strip body fat and preserve lean mass.

It’s easy to overindulge in sugar-laden desserts, calorie-rich entrees, and alcoholic beverages packed with empty calories. You don’t have to cut out all the tasty foods just because you’re watching your caloric intake.

Related: 15 Stocking Stuffers You NEED in Your Gym Bag

This article will provide you with several simple substitutions to improve the nutritional profile of your holiday foods without negatively affecting the taste or derailing all your fat loss progress.

6 Healthy Holiday Food Swaps

Swap #1 -Mashed Cauliflower for Mashed Potatoes

CauliflowerAs a pale white male with strong Irish roots, mashed potatoes may be my spirit animal. For many, mashed potatoes are a staple comfort food during holiday gatherings.

First off, let me clarify that baked potatoes as a standalone carbohydrate source are quite healthy. One medium baked potato weighing 213 grams or about 7.5 ounces, contains only 168 calories, almost zero grams of fat, 38.5 grams of carbohydrates, nearly 4.5 grams of protein, and 3.0 grams of fiber. [1]

Baked potatoes are also a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, copper, vitamin c, manganese, and phosphorus. [2] How many times have you overeaten baked potatoes? I’m willing to bet it’s a rare occurrence compared to the number of times you’ve overindulged on mashed potatoes, French fries, and chips. It’s the addition of cream, milk, butter, and cheese that make mashed potatoes so delicious, but also calorie-dense and addictive.

Next time you go to make mashed potatoes try making mashed cauliflower instead. The equivalent amount of steam cauliflower, 213 grams or about 7.5 ounces, contains just 49 calories, less than one gram of fat, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of fiber. [3]

Cauliflower is a great source of vitamin C as well as a good source of vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and choline. [4] Mashed cauliflower is a low-carb dieter’s dream when it comes to creating faux mashed potatoes.

Steam one head of cauliflower until tender. Slowly add the cauliflower to the blender or food processor while it’s running on the high setting. You may also want to add a small amount of skim milk, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to create a dish with a more similar flavor to your favorite mashed potato recipe. If prepared correctly the texture and taste will be almost identical to mashed potatoes, but with a fraction of the calories, carbohydrates and fat.

Swap #2 – Fat Free Half-and-Half for Heavy Cream

Building on our previous swap, substitute fat free ½ and ½ in recipes calling for heavy cream like mashed potatoes, pot pies, and creamy soups. You might be thinking, “Nick, isn’t fat free half and half highly processed and full of artificial ingredients?” I am a big fan of consuming a diet rich in minimally processed foods which you would think means I prefer heavy cream over fat free half-and-half.

For those consuming a low-carbohydrate and moderate fat diet, heavy cream may be an integral component of your diet to ensure you achieve your target macronutrient intake. When used in moderation heavy cream is a good source of testosterone-supporting saturated fat but unfortunately, heavy cream is rarely used in moderation when preparing holiday entrees. Using fat free half-and-half can substantially cut the caloric density of many savory holiday dishes.

Heavy cream is five times as calorically dense as fat free half-and-half. One 15-gram tablespoon of heavy cream contains 51 calories, less 0.5 grams of protein and carbohydrates, but 5.5 grams of fat. [5] One 15-gram tablespoon of fat free half-and-half contains just 9 calories, less than 0.5 grams of protein and fat, but just 1.5 grams of carbohydrates. [6]

While a 42-calorie difference doesn’t sound like it will completely ruin your diet, the impact becomes substantial when the recipe calls for one to two cups of heavy cream. By swapping in fat free half-and-half in a one-to-ratio you’re saving between 660 and 1220 calories without significantly altering the taste or consistency.

Apple Sauce

Swap #3 – Applesauce for Vegetable Oil

Moisture content is a critical component of numerous baked goods. Dry and crumbly cookies, cakes, and breads don’t have the appeal of their full and moist counterparts. Instead of loading up your recipe with high-calorie and high-fat vegetable, swap in unsweetened applesauce.

One half-cup of vegetable oil contains a whopping 940 calories, 109 grams of fat, and minimal vitamin and mineral content. [7] One half-cup of unsweetened applesauce contains just 51 calories, less than 0.5 grams of protein and fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.5 grams of fiber. [8] Applesauce is also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. [9]

In most cases you can swap vegetable oil for applesauce in a one-to-one ratio. However, some recipes specify slight changes if you use applesauce, such as adding less additional liquid if the recipe also calls for water or milk. Check the product box or the recipe notes to see if these adjustments are required.

Swap #4 – Yogurt for Sour Cream

There’s nothing like a heaping dollop of cool sour cream to contrast the warmth of a freshly baked potato. Some of the best holiday dips use sour cream as a foundation to provide a hearty body and smooth, creamy texture.

Sour cream can also be hidden in cakes and baked goods to improve their moistness. Sour cream’s velvety texture can trigger second helpings on the potato and double-dipping with chips, resulting in hundreds of extra calories and double-digit grams of fat.

Substitute plain non-fat regular or Greek yogurt for sour cream to slash fat and calories while raising the protein and calcium content. One half-cup of full-fat sour cream has 228 calories, 3 grams of protein, 22 grams of fat, 5.5 grams of carbohydrates, and only 116 milligrams of calcium. [10]

One half-cup of plain yogurt made with skim milk contains just 69 calories, 9.5 grams of carbohydrates and less than one gram of fat, but offers a substantial 7 grams of protein and 244 milligrams of calcium. [11] Using non-fat Greek yogurt will further lower the carbohydrate and increase the protein content compared to traditional non-fat yogurt.

Most recipes turn out flawlessly if you substitute yogurt for sour cream in a one to one ratio. Greek yogurt is significantly thicker than both sour cream and traditional yogurt so you may have to make minor adjustments depending on dish. Regardless, the final product will still have a creamy and rich texture with a fraction of the calories and fat plus the added benefit extra of muscle-building protein and bone-supporting calcium.

If you can’t live without sour cream, then stick with the reduced fat variety. One half-cup has 163 calories, 3.5 grams of protein, 14.5 grams of fat, and 5 grams of carbohydrates. [12] You’ll save 65 calories and nearly 8 grams of fat per one half-cup serving.

Swap #5 – One or No Pie Crust for Two Crusts

The holiday season is not complete without freshly baked pies packed with fillings like pumpkin, pecans, chocolate pudding, cherries, apples, blueberries. While we may try to convince ourselves that getting the recommend daily intake fruit from pies is reasonable, there’s no arguing that the crust is packed with empty calories and fat.

One serving of pie crust, 23 grams or one-eighth of a 9-inch crust, contains 121 calories, 8 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of protein, and less than 0.5 grams of fiber. [13] I don’t know about you but I rarely have one serving of pie and if you’re eating a two-crust pie then you can add 240 calories to the caloric content of the pie filling itself.

While an extra 120 to 240 calories isn’t going to completely derail your fat loss progress, consuming one serving of pie every day between November 25th and December 31st will add 4,320 to 8,640 calories to your diet from pie crust alone. That’s approximately 1.25 to 2.5 pounds of extra fat added to your body. Sure, pie crust is made with a bit of milk and eggs, but it’s mostly flour and butter.

Do yourself a favor and ditch the pie crust next time you cut yourself a slice. I personally scrape out the filling in to a bowl and discard the crust almost immediately so that I’m not tempted to pick at it. Out of sight, out of mind. In a social setting this practice may not always be socially accepted (not that it should matter), but if you’re eating a two-crust pie at least try to discard one of the crusts to shave an extra 120 calories off your dessert.

If you insist on consuming the crust then make your own using whole wheat flour or low-carbohydrate almond flour or coconut flour. A quick web search yields thousands of recipes for homemade pie crust.

Swap #6 – Low or No Calories Mixers for Full-Sugar Mixers

For many of us over 21 years of age, the Holiday Season is not only a time to indulgence in homemade food, but also a time when we increase our alcohol consumption. Whether it’s the stress of gift-buying, putting up with the in-laws, coping with ludicrous meal-time conversations, or dealing with the idiots at the mall, alcohol is common beverage used to deal with stressors.

I’m not going to tell you not to drink since I enjoy a good glass of scotch or red wine, but I do advise you make wise drink choices.

Instead of reaching for that third glass of spiked eggnog or sugar and fat-laden hot chocolate, choose low carbohydrate beers, dry wines, or distilled spirits mixed with low or no calorie mixers. One cup of eggnog has 225 calories, 20.5 grams of fat, 10.5 grams of protein, and 11.5 grams of protein. [14]

One cup of traditional hot chocolate contains 190 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 24 of which are sugar, 6 grams of fat, and 9 grams of protein. [15] One half-cup of your favorite sour mix has 113 calories, zero protein and fat, but nearly 28 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are sugar. [16] While all the above options are delicious, they’re packed with empty calories, fat, and sugar.

If you choose to pour yourself a liquor drink then choose a low or no-calorie mixer like diet soda, diet tonic, club soda, or water enhancers like Mio or Crystal Light. These options offer a variety of flavors with virtually no calories or sugar. You can’t further reduce the content of low-carbohydrate beers or dry wines so enjoy and pace yourself according.

Just remember to avoid the carbohydrate-heavy full-bodied beers or sweet wines, unless you can limit yourself to one. If you can’t live without your eggnog, hot chocolate, or sour mix then look for the reduced fat and no-sugar added varieties. You’ll do your general health, well-being, and waistline a favor.

Do you have a favorite food swap for the Holiday Season? Let me know in the comments below.

References

1) “Basic Report: 11353, Potatoes, russet, flesh and skin, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
2) “Potatoes.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
3) “Basic Report: 11761, Cauliflower, cooked, boiled, drained, with salt.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
4) “Cauliflower.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
5) “Basic Report: 01199, Cream, half and half, fat free.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
6) “Basic Report: 01053, Cream, fluid, heavy whipping.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
7) “Basic Report: 04513, Vegetable oil, palm kernel.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
8) “Basic Report: 09019, Applesauce, canned, unsweetened, without added ascorbic acid (includes USDA commodity).” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
9) “Apples.” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation, 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
10) “Basic Report: 01056, Cream, sour, cultured.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
11) “Basic Report: 01118, Yogurt, plain, skim milk, 13 grams protein per 8 ounce.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
12) “Basic Report: 01055, Cream, sour, reduced fat, cultured.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
13) “Basic Report: 18336, Pie crust, standard-type, prepared from recipe, baked.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
14) “Basic Report: 01057, Eggnog.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
15) “Basic Report: 01105, Milk, chocolate beverage, hot cocoa, homemade.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
16) “Basic Report: 14028, Beverages, Whiskey sour mix, bottled.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.