Healthy Food Swaps for Happy Holidays

By Melanie Beasley, RD, LD
December 20, 2016


‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately, that also means it’s the season of unhealthy food. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. To help you navigate this holiday season, we’ve created a short quiz of typical holiday fare with one twist; one is healthy and one isn’t.

Scroll through the options below to locate typical holiday offerings you might skip thinking they are unhealthy … think again!

If you’re a longtime Nutritional Weight & Wellness follower, ‘tis the season to remind yourself about the reasoning behind your real food choices.

Without further ado, what would you choose between the following options? 

Holiday-food-swaps_butter.jpgBaking with Butter vs Fat-Free Margarine

Our pick: Real butter is a rich source of vitamin A and trace minerals, such as selenium and conjugated linoleic acid, which support immune function we all need during the holidays. Many times margarines contain trans fats in the form of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils that lower our immune function and create inflammation in our bodies. Plus, can we all agree butter just tastes better?!

Holiday-food-swaps_chocolate.jpgDark Chocolate vs M&M’S® Candies Holiday Blend

Our pick: We suggest aiming for 70-85 % cocoa. Dark chocolate is high in magnesium, copper, iron, and potassium. This holiday favorite is also loaded with antioxidants that help with anti-aging. Finally, dark chocolate has a low glycemic index, meaning it won't cause large spikes in blood sugar levels which contribute to weight gain and overeating at the holiday party.

M&M’s have a candy coating that contains artificial colors dyes and sugar. Additionally, the chocolate even more diminished by the added sugar that later may send you back to the bag due to sugar cravings.

Holiday-food-swaps_coffee.jpgCream in Your Coffee vs. Fat Free Spice Latte Creamer

Our pick: Top your coffee off with real cream! Full-fat cream keeps blood sugar balanced and gives the body a sense of satisfaction without causing inflammation which occurs with more processed products. Plus, fat keeps you feeling full and satisfied instead of wanting cookie after cookie.

Holiday creamers are laden with sugar, hydrogenated oils, food colorings and chemical additives. These festive bottles of flavor turn your coffee into a cocktail of chemicals.

Holiday-food-swaps_eggnog.jpgFull-Fat Eggnog vs Sugar-Free, Fat-Free Nog

Our pick: Classic, full-fat nog is a healthier choice because it contains good fat from cream that helps to stabilize blood sugar and gives the body a sense of fullness.

The fat-free, sugar-free eggnog is full of chemicals and additives designed to taste like real ‘nog without the calories. Low-fat ‘nog sacrifices nutrition for calories making you believe it is a healthier version.

Holiday-food-swaps_water.jpgSparkling Water vs Wine

Our pick: Spruce up sparkling water with lime or lemon wedges. Your body and skin will thank you for the hydration without any of the side effects of alcohol.

Wine raises our blood sugar, which is linked to weight gain, high triglycerides, food cravings and poor sleep. It can also result in hypoglycemia which has been shown to cause anxiety, fatigue and irritability. Who needs that during the holidays?

For more help staying healthy over the holidays, take a listen to our popular Dishing Up Nutrition podcast on Holiday Heartburn. Our nutritionists share simple solutions to avoid heartburn not only for the holiday season, but all year long. Or read about How Does a Nutritionist Do the Holidays (or Thanksgiving or any holiday!)? We polled our Nutritional Weight & Wellness nutritionists on what they do when they head to a party where unhealthy options abound.

If you do slip up over the holidays, don’t worry!  We are here to help you get back on track with our nutrition classes including our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss program. The 12-week program provides the education and support you need to make your weight loss goals a reality. The program is available in-person or online and includes a 2-hour consultation with a licensed nutritionist.






About the author

Melanie is a licensed dietitian at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. In 2005, two weeks after having invasive back surgery, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then just eight months later she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies that included dairy, gluten, wheat, chocolate and Brazil nuts. After changing her diet to remove her allergy triggers and more, Melanie was able to stop taking three prescription medications and feel better than she had in years. As a nutritionist, she finds true joy from sharing that knowledge with others. Melanie has a Bachelors in Science of Food and Nutrition from the dietetics program at the University of Missouri Columbia.

View all posts by Melanie Beasley, RD, LD


Debra boos
Do you ever have classes in Duluth?
December 21, 2016 at 7:54 am


We haven't had any there, but thanks for the idea! We have a lot of online classes to choose from though so that's an option! 

3 Questions I have been meaning to ask:
1. If I am not gluten sensitive, can I have one piece of sprouted grain Ezekiel bread a day with my eggs? I am trying to lose weight.
2. Can I have a handful of Organic Blue chips with salsa and guacamole as a snack and lose weight?
3. Chicken from a can, is that okay to use? ( Ingredients: chicken breast meat, salt and water.)
Thank you for your time!
November 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm


Those are great questions! Ezekiel bread is one of the best breads to choose from.  A slice once a day with your eggs is certainly fine. I would also suggest a good vegetable at breakfast, such as mushrooms or spinach, to boost the nutritional impact.

I like the way you are thinking when you choose organic, however, a better choice would be some cucumber slices or carrots and celery to dip into the guacamole and salsa.  I would add a good protein source as well, such as a chicken leg or hardboiled egg.

Chicken from a can without any added oils is an excellent way to get some protein in!  I like to have a few cans on hand for when I have not made it to the grocery store.

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