50 Holiday Foods You Shouldn't Eat
Have a healthy holiday
'Tis the season to be jolly—and pack on pounds indulging in rich, fattening fare.
Here are 50 holiday diet hazards you and your family should avoid, along with healthier options that only taste indulgent!
If you simply can't resist a calorie-laden holiday favorite, make sure to keep portions small.
These party staples look so innocent, but just one straw packs a third of your daily limit for saturated fat!
You're better off snacking on pretzels, popcorn, or even a few chips with salsa. And if you really want to do your arteries (and taste buds) a favor, serve this fat-free salsa, which boasts 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Try this recipe: Grilled Vegetable Salsa
This tempting classic may seem harmless. Still, lurking within each ball can be at least 400 calories of white bread, butter, heavy cream, and sodium-laden beef broth.
If you can't resist this diet hazard, our lighter version has almost a fourth of the fat and 50% of the calories and sodium.
Try this recipe: Swedish Meatballs
Step…away…from the eggnog. With ingredients like sugar, eggs, whipping cream, and bourbon, this is a nutritional bullet smart revelers will dodge. One cup has 343 calories, 150 milligrams of cholesterol, half of the USDA's suggested daily limit, and 21 grams of sugar, almost a day's worth. Instead, enjoy spiced cider. And if you're really craving a creamy glass of eggnog, our nog made with unsweetened cocoa powder lightens it up.
Try this recipe: Cocoa Nog
Baked potatoes are rich in vitamin C and fiber, but add in cheese, sour cream, and butter, and you've negated most of the health benefits. One medium stuffed potato has 316 calories and 8.25 grams of saturated fat. That's almost half of your suggested daily upper limit of saturated fat.
Lighten up your potatoes by using low-fat dairy products or adding low-cal veggies like onions and spinach. Or, you can roast sweet potatoes in the oven instead; each has less than half of the calories and only 2.4 grams of total fat.
Try this recipe: Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
What happens when you combine healthy veggies like corn and spinach with cream, butter, and cheese? A side dish with more than 75% of your saturated fat for the day. Boston Market's creamed spinach side has 280 calories (almost entirely from fat) and 15 grams of saturated fat.
If you love the creamy taste, make a healthier recipe using low-fat milk and light cream cheese instead of cream. This lowers the total fat per serving to 3.7 grams.
Try this recipe: Creamed Spinach
Even the trimmed, lean version of this popular holiday meat contains 7 grams of saturated fat. One 3-ounce serving of traditional beef pot roast has 280 calories and 20 grams of total fat. But think about how many ounces you're actually adding to your plate, plus the calories from gravy. Much more!
White-meat turkey or even lean beef tenderloin is healthier for your heart. Our herb-roasted turkey recipe has only 180 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.
Try this recipe: Herb-Roasted Turkey
Don't let the name deceive you. Though this sweet treat contains fruit, it can also have plenty of butter, sugar, and corn syrup. One slice we tried clocks in at 410 calories and 13 grams of fat.
You'd actually be better off enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie, which contains about 250 calories per slice as well as beta-carotene. Or, bake this lighter loaf with grits, bananas, and blueberries; it has only 145 calories per slice.
Try this recipe: Banana Blueberry Bread
On their own pecans are a high-cal nut, but combine them with sugar, butter, and corn syrup, and you've got a potentially deadly dessert. A single slice will cost you more than 500 calories, 37 grams of fat, and 26 grams of sugar. Still, there's no reason to skip dessert—try baking something lighter instead. This apple pie has less than a quarter of the fat per slice. And you're getting additional fiber from the apples as a bonus.
Try this recipe: Classic Apple Pie
Beware of this delectable dessert, a crowd favorite on any occasion. One slice of Cheesecake Factory's original cheesecake has 707 calories and 29 grams of fat. That's about half of the 65 grams the USDA recommends for the average woman eating 2,000 calories a day. And we haven't even mentioned assorted flavors and toppings!
If cheesecake is one of your choice indulgences, select a light version that is garnished with fruit. One slice of our cheesecake with fresh strawberry sauce has only 245 calories and 8.4 grams of fat.
Try this recipe: Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Packed with vitamins and fiber, sweet potatoes are a superfood. However, candied yams are a different story. Though the savory starch is the main component of this side dish, common recipes tell you to add up to six cups of sugar before you start baking, racking up a total of 38 grams per serving. The American Heart Association suggests that added sugar intake be limited to 25 grams per day for women and 37 grams per day for men. The side also tacks on over 400 calories to your plate.
Our sweet potato casserole is trimmed down and just right for the holidays. It has at least 7 less grams of sugar per serving, and butter is replaced with half-and-half, lowering the fat content.
Try this recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole With Marshmallows
Cranberries are a great source of vitamin E, K, and C, and dietary fiber. Still, pay close attention at the dinner table during the holidays. Typical canned cranberry sauce has 105 grams of sugar per serving, over four times the amount the AHA recommends per day for women. It also adds over 400 calories to your plate.
Incorporate fresh or frozen fruit and less sugar to make a healthier turkey topping. For example, our spiced cranberry sauce recipe uses three-quarters of a cup of brown sugar total and is only 74 calories per serving.
Try this recipe: Cranberry Relish
Any pudding that requires flour, salt, and melted beef fat can't be good for your health, but this old-school side dish has been around since the 1700s. It was originally created to make use of the fat that dropped into the dripping pan while meat roasted. One serving has about 625 calories and 37 grams of total fat, over half of your upper limit for the entire day.
If you must include this battered pudding in your holiday dinner plans, our lighter version has only 131 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.
Try this recipe: Yorkshire Pudding
Spinach and artichoke dip
The name of this popular appetizer can easily be misleading to the average partygoer. Spinach and artichokes alone are nutritious. However, generous amounts of mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese overpower the vitamin-packed veggies. One popular restaurant's spinach and artichoke dip with tostada chips has 905 calories and 3,100 milligrams of sodium, over 1,000 more milligrams than the USDA recommends!
Try this healthier version and watch your portion size. One serving has just 59 calories and 183 mg of sodium.
Try this recipe: Warm Spinach-Artichoke Dip
Prime rib is a beloved cut of beef, especially during the holidays. Still, it happens to come from the fattest part of the cow. One piece of prime rib can house up to 750 calories and 45 grams of fat, without the added sauce or seasoning! Plus, 8 ounces has 450 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 mg more than the USDA recommends for men and women to consume per day.
If you're a steak lover, there are other cuts to choose from that are just as appetizing if cooked properly. Beef tenderloin has one-fourth the calories. This dish is made with port-mushroom sauce; it has 22 grams of fat and only 93 mg of cholesterol.
Try this recipe: Roast Beef Tenderloin With Port-Mushroom Sauce
Think twice before stuffing your face with this ominous mixture. It could be harboring a ton of unhealthy foods. One recipe uses a pound of sweet Italian sausage, a stick of butter, a cup of toasted pecans, and maple syrup. Generic sausage stuffing has 345 calories, 235 from fat, setting you back about 26 grams of fat altogether.
But as with many holiday meals, there are healthy alternatives, such as our stuffing made with cornbread and cranberries, with only 9 grams of total fat.
Try this recipe: Corn Bread Stuffing With Cranberries
Dark-meat turkey with skin
In general, turkey has more lean meat compared to other entree selections, but be careful when choosing which part of the bird you want to eat. Dark meat with skin has 70 more calories and three times more fat per serving than plain white meat without skin. The skin alone can hold up to 44 grams of total fat.
Though dark meat contains more iron, you'll get about the same amount of protein. So ditch the skin and opt for white meat! Our recipe uses turkey breast and spinach-feta stuffing and is a healthy and festive alternative.
Try this recipe: Turkey Breast with Spinach-Feta Stuffing
Green bean casserole with fried onions
Green beans are a hearty vegetable, boasting dietary fiber and vitamins A and C. Still, this casserole is far from wholesome. Butter, cheese, salt, and fried onions take away from the health perks of the beans. One full batch has 785 calories and 4,128 milligrams of sodium. You probably won't take the entire dish for yourself, but it's still important to watch your portion size.
For a comparable savor with fewer calories and less salt, make this casserole. Broccoli and water chestnuts give the dish a refreshing crunch.
Try this recipe: Zesty Broccoli Casserole
They are so light and fluffy we think croissants are low in fat and calories—perfect for a holiday brunch! But what makes them so mouth-watering? Sugar, salt, and butter between each and every layer of flour dough. A butter croissant from Starbucks has 310 calories and 18 grams of total fat. This pastry isn't as bad as a box of donuts, but it has almost no nutritional value.
When serving breakfast to houseguests during the holidays, offer healthier choices that are even tastier, like these pancakes made with maple yogurt. Ingredients like rolled oats, blueberries, and Greek yogurt supply fiber, antioxidants, and protein.
Try this recipe: Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Maple Yogurt
Even though potato pancakes are a well-liked holiday substitute for mashed potatoes, they're battered with egg, flour, and breadcrumbs, and then fried in oil. This method makes them crisp and golden brown, but also rather unhealthy. An average pancake has over 200 calories and 11 grams of fat, plus extra saturated fat from cooking oil. And who can stop with just one?
To lighten up your cakes, use modest amounts of egg whites, breadcrumbs, and olive oil. Our potato cakes have only 80 calories and less than a gram of fat!
Try this recipe: Potato Cakes
Hot buttered rum
Sipping a warm cocktail by the fire on a cold winter evening sounds enticing. However, the calorie count may scare you away: One cup of hot buttered rum has over 300 calories and 13 grams of fat—not to mention tons of added melted butter and sugar. The dangerous concoction also has 40 milligrams of cholesterol, one-seventh of the USDA's recommended daily intake in just one drink!
It's tough to reduce the count when rum is involved. Still, there are slightly healthier versions like our spicy rum punch. You're still taking in 200 calories, but no fat or cholesterol.
Try this recipe: Spicy Rum Punch
This classic entree is beyond decadent. Lobster is healthy seafood, but the sauce is the dish's downfall. Flour, butter, and milk create a thick and creamy puree that should be avoided at all costs. One small cup is worth 605 calories and 49 grams of fat. Nearly enough fat for an entire day, according to USDA recommendations.
If you prepare lobster for your family during the holiday season, go for lighter recipes like this lobster panzanella made with fresh lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Served with a piece of whole-wheat toast, this dish is just as filling, but clocks in at only 167 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Try this recipe: Lobster Panzanella
Yule log or Bûche de Noël
With primary ingredients like chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and sponge cake, a slice of Yule log can account for half a day's worth of calories. Some recipes even toss in a cup of toasted pecans and coconut. One serving of Betty Crocker's Bûche de Noël boasts 420 calories and 47 grams of sugar—almost double the amount the American Heart Association's recommends eating per day.
Looking for a lighter selection? Save over 100 calories by picking up a piece of this cranberry upside-down cake instead.
Try this recipe: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake with Cognac Cream
Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha
A Grande (16 oz.) serving of this seductive Starbucks beverage has 540 calories. And that's with only 2% milk! The white-chocolate- and peppermint-flavored syrups, whipped cream, and dark chocolate make up 76 grams of sugar, three times the amount of added sugar the American Heart Association suggests per day.
Enjoy the same warmth and sweetness when drinking this hot chocolate—a lighter homemade version with only 194 calories and little added sugar.
Try this recipe: Peppermint Stick Hot Chocolate
Making caramel apples can be an entertaining holiday activity, and they are enjoyable to eat too. However, the caramel sauce is pure sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, melted with a bit of milk. Though apples are high in vitamins and dietary fiber, the treat packs about 320 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 28 grams of sugar (more than the AHA-recommended 25 grams per day).
There's no healthy equivalent (because apple slices with peanut butter just isn't the same), but limit the amount of sauce on each apple and watch your portions. Or, forget the sauce and drizzle some fat-free caramel sundae syrup on top.
Gingerbread people and houses may look inviting with their smiles made of frosting and gumdrop decor, but don't be fooled! They're packing plenty of calories. Gingerbread cake is even worse, with large quantities of buttermilk, flour, and sugar. One small piece of cake has 260 calories, 36 carbs, and 12 grams of fat.
Stick with small cookies—you can still shape them into people! And use light icing to decorate. Most gingerbread is rich in fiber too!
Try this recipe: Gingerbread Cookies
Santa's health may be in jeopardy if you feed him too many sugar cookies this Christmas. The classic recipe is pretty simple, but the amount of all-purpose flour, butter, and egg used is unnecessary. An average cookie can contain over 200 calories and 14 grams of sugar.
For a healthier batch, use egg whites and less butter to keep saturated fat and cholesterol low, and a touch of whole-wheat flour to add fiber.
Try this recipe: Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Often referred to as Christmas pudding, this dessert is dangerously heavy. Not only does the traditional recipe ask you to put molasses, brandy, and candied fruit in the batter, the concoction is also baked in a greased and sugared pudding mold. Recipes estimate that one serving of plum pudding contains about 360 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 30 grams of sugar (5 grams more than your daily upper limit).
Luckily, there are lighter versions out there, like our steamed pudding with healthier ingredients like applesauce, low-fat milk, and a small amount of light molasses. This dessert is still high in calories, but it has less fat and added sugar.
Try this recipe: Steamed Pudding with Lemon Sauce
Mashing potatoes never hurt anyone, but whole milk, butter, and salt can cram in the calories, cholesterol, and fat. One serving clocks in at 237 calories with 9 grams of fat and 666 milligrams of sodium. This count doesn't include added salt, butter, or sour cream!
If you can't live without this much-loved side dish, use low-fat milk and limit adding butter and salt. Or, bake something new, like this side dish of seasoned potatoes.
Try this recipe: Rosemary-Roasted New Potatoes
There's no way to avoid the fact that candy canes are pure sugar and vinegar. They're only 60 calories apiece but don't offer any nourishment. Rather than making them a mid-afternoon snack in the month of December, use the canes as Christmas-tree decorations.
Get creative in the kitchen with other joyful treats that have some nutritional value, like this festive candy made with white chocolate, dried cranberries, and almonds.
Try this recipe: White Chocolate Holiday Bark
Gooseberries are a fine source of vitamin A and C, and potassium. However, the conventional pie recipe calls for over two cups of white sugar and a double pastry piecrust! Nutrition facts vary by recipe, but one slice can have over 500 calories and 30 grams of fat.
Reduce the sugar and use whole-wheat crust to lighten it up. Or, try baking other festive fruit pies. This one is made with pears and cranberry granola, and has one-third of the fat plus 5 grams of dietary fiber per slice.
Try this recipe: Pear-Cranberry Pie with Granola
Beef tenderloin can supply a lean serving of protein to your plate, but add port wine syrup and puff pastry and you've got a recipe for diet disaster. One recipe says that a serving hosts 744 calories and 57 grams of fat. The rich entree also has 130 milligrams of cholesterol, about half of your upper limit for the whole day.
Beef Wellington may be a feast favorite. Still, if you want to watch out for your heart health, go for lighter recipes, like this beef stew, which has half the cholesterol per serving.
Try this recipe: Wild Mushroom and Beef Stew
It's fun to get into the holiday spirit with sweet and sultry cocktails, but keep an eye on calorie counts. A chocolate martini has at least 300 calories per glass when you use vodka, chocolate liquor, and syrup. There are 103 calories and 11 grams of sugar in a shot of Godiva chocolate liquor alone!
You don't have to skip the party. Enjoy these tempting treats in moderation and lean toward lighter options. A small serving of our cocoa nog has only 86 calories.
Try this recipe: Chocolate Martini
Popcorn can be a perfect light snack, but not when it comes to popcorn balls. What gives these treats a round shape, you might ask? Sugar and corn syrup act as glue—melted and hardened–holding the kernels together.
Stick with the plain air-popped variety for a healthy, filling bite to eat. A pinch of salt and light butter won't hurt either.
Ham, on its own, is vitamin-rich lean meat. However, when it's cured with salt and then glazed with sugar, say good-bye to health benefits. Just 6 ounces contains 1,760 milligrams of sodium and 6 grams of sugar. This might not seem outrageous, but think about how many slices of ham you fork onto your plate. The numbers add up!
If you love to bake ham for your big holiday dinners, lighten up the recipe with a healthier glaze made mostly from mustard and jam, with only one tablespoon of added brown sugar.
Try this recipe: Glazed Ham with Blackberry Sauce
No matter how moist you make your holiday turkey, there's a good chance guests will think it's dry without gravy. Unfortunately, the only thing this sauce contributes to the dish is fat and salt. Measuring portions out of a ladle can also be difficult. One cup of canned turkey gravy has 1,373 milligrams of sodium, almost reaching the USDA's 2,300 milligrams recommended daily limit.
Don't deprive yourself, though. Make this simple sherry gravy, and pay attention when you pour! One serving has 115 mg of sodium.
Try this recipe: Simple Sherry Gravy
If you're searching for a sweet treat to kick-start a day of holiday shopping, keep your distance from Cinnabon at the mall. A classic roll has 730 calories! And a Pecanbon roll has 1,100! With 25 grams of fat, this breakfast wastes almost half of your USDA-allotted daily calories and fat without any nutritional benefit.
Take a healthier route at home by making our French toast; it has fibrous whole-wheat bread and antioxidant-rich blueberries. This dish has one-fifth the calories and fat.
Try this recipe: Maple-Cinnamon French Toast
These rich chocolates look too cute to eat, and their caloric value is another reason not to: One plain chocolate truffle can clock in at around 100 calories (almost half from saturated fat), not counting assorted fillings such as peanut butter, cheesecake, or cookie dough.
Use angel food cake instead of ganache filling to make chocolate-covered cake pops. Since you'll be slashing the saturated fat down to 2 grams per pop, feel free to get creative with toppings.
Try this recipe: Angel Food Cake Pops
Nuts by themselves can be heart-healthy, but these shards of hardened corn syrup, sugar, and butter are not. It varies by brand, but one piece typically contains about 150 calories (about as much as an ice cream sandwich, and about 5 grams of fat. And let's be honest, who can stop at just one piece of peanut brittle?
Instead, try our version of chocolate bark—it delivers lots of antioxidant-rich cranberries and almonds.
Try this recipe: White Chocolate Holiday Bark
Apple pie a la mode
An apple a day fights belly fat, but in the form of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream? Not quite. A single slice with a vanilla scoop can set you back roughly 500 calories. The high calorie count comes from the rich butter crust and its gooey, sweet filling, which is traditionally made with a cup or more of sugar.
For a revamped version of your fall favorite, try our healthier apple dessert and pass on the ice cream.
Try this recipe: Apple-Maple Galette
Dunkin Donuts' gingerbread latte
Nothing warms you up like a hot holiday drink, but you should think before you drink.
A medium 16-ounce gingerbread latte from Dunkin' Donuts weighs in at 330 liquid calories, with 9 grams of fat and 51 grams of sugar (almost 13 teaspoons!). For the same calorie count, you could treat yourself to six cocoa-glazed Munchkins and a medium latte lite.
In general, cutting 300 liquid calories from your diet every day for a month could result in a 2.5-pound weight loss.
Try this recipe: Spiced Mocha Latte
A trifle's layers of airy pudding, fruit, and cake can trick you into thinking you're eating a lighter dessert. But certain ingredients—liqueur-soaked cake, sugary preserved fruits, sweet condensed milk, brownies and cookies, or copious amounts of heavy cream—can spell trouble.
Instead, prepare mini trifles individually in small glasses (for portion control) or piling them high with fresh berries (rich in antioxidants).
Try this recipe: Individual Tiramisu Trifles
Yes, cherries are fruit and they are good for you—on their own.
But if you soak them in sickly sweet goop and then coat them with chocolate, it's a different story. You can get as much as 30 grams of sugar in two pieces!
Try this recipe: Cherry-Almond-Chocolate-Chunk Cookies
There are loads of reasons to drink red wine: a glass a day may boost heart health, it has no fats, and, at around 100 calories a glass, often has fewer calories than a venti cappuccino from Starbucks.
Since red wine is the main ingredient in mulled wine, you'd think it would be healthy. But not when it comes to calories. Mulled wine can clock in at 356 calories per cup, mostly because of added sugar.
To enjoy the holiday cocktail without all the calories, cut back on sugar and intensify the cinnamon, cloves, and orange flavors.
Try this recipe: Mulled Wine Sangria
When you're scoping out the hors d'oeuvres at your holiday office party, steer clear of these nut-covered hunks of saturated fat.
Traditionally made by blending together cream cheese, grated cheese, and spices, an entire ball can contain more than 500 calories. They can deliver more than half of your recommended intake of cholesterol and almost a day's worth of total fat.
Instead, snack on soft cheeses (which can be a bit lower in calories) and crackers, fruits, or shrimp cocktail.
Try this recipe: Red Pepper-Cheese Dip
Tri-flavor popcorn tins
Popcorn is a healthy whole-grain snack, but be careful around these tins of butter-, caramel-, or cheese-coated popcorn. It's a lose-lose-lose situation, whichever you choose.
According to the Popcorn Factory, the butter and cheese varieties have the most fat (12 and 13 grams of total fat per 2-cup serving), and caramel delivers the most calories (100 calories per 2/3 cup).
Try this recipe: Parmesan, Parsley, and Maldon Salt Popcorn
As a cousin of the fruitcake, this Italian holiday bread's main ingredients are similar—lots of butter and sugar. Don't be fooled by the pieces of dried fruit studded throughout, either; one slice of a commercially produced loaf contains at least 300 calories, about one-third of them from fat, and can have as much as 110 milligrams of cholesterol—almost half the recommended daily amount.
Instead, make your own gift-bread with antioxidant-rich cherries and chocolate. Our recipe uses dark stout beer, which adds a dose of silicon that may help boost bone density.
Try this recipe: Stout Chocolate-Cherry Bread
Royal Dansk Danish butter cookies
Whether you're a lazy baker or on the receiving end of a last-minute gift-giver, you've seen these tins of cookies sold at drug stores, grocery stores, and gas stations.
The main ingredient of these cookies is, of course, butter. Four cookies add up to 170 calories and one-quarter of your daily intake of saturated fats. You're better off baking your own.
Try this recipe: Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Who doesn't love to dip bite-size snacks into a warm, simmering pot of cheese? We don't, when it contains an unnecessarily high amount of saturated fat, sodium, and calories, depending on the kinds of cheese in the pot.
The good news is that you can lighten this calcium-rich dip by using low-fat options such as goat cheese, or adding a white-bean purée for body and texture.
Try this recipe: Goat Cheese Fondue
Although shepherd's pie is cozy comfort food—and a tempting way to reuse holiday leftovers—a 1-cup portion can pack almost 600 milligrams of sodium. This is almost half of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams a day.
To cut back on your salt intake and lighten your leftovers, try a turkey-and-broccoli bake that uses low-sodium broth instead of beef broth, and uses hearty veggies such as mushrooms and broccoli in place of potatoes.
Try this recipe: Turkey-Broccoli Bake
Candy apples and chocolate-covered cherries aren't the only festive "fruits" to worry about. Although navel oranges are in season around the holidays, many skip the fresh fruit basket and choose to gift these orange-flavored chocolate balls.
Each one of Terry's chocolate "oranges," made from chocolate and orange oil (a natural pesticide derived from orange rinds), adds up to 230 calories and 8 grams of saturated fat.
Either limit portions or try our homemade chocolate-orange treat that has only one-quarter of the calories.
Try this recipe: Chocolate-Orange Spoonbread