Holiday Food Traps and Healthy Swaps

December 12, 2016

article_healthyeating_holiday-place-setting.jpgBy Katie Vigesaa, RD, LD

‘Tis the season when you deck the halls, trim the tree, and spend time with your loved ones. Of course it’s also the season when holiday parties and family functions mean unhealthy appetizers, Aunt Betty’s famous caramels, and your favorite cookies will be plentiful. You’re torn. Part of you feels you want to take in all the traditions (including Betty’s caramels) that come with the season, but another part of you knows that all those holiday goodies inevitably come with a downside. Take the time to ask yourself, “Are my favorite holiday foods leaving me feeling sluggish, moody and ultimately with tighter jeans?” Don’t be sad if your favorites don’t make the healthy cut. We’ve got plenty of satisfying food swaps for you to try or bring to you next holiday party. Let’s take a closer look.

Snack mix here, there and everywhere!

It’s time for a holiday get-together at your in-law’s home, and they aren’t known for serving the healthiest options. In fact, the first thing you notice when you step through the doorway is that every surface is adorned with Chex Mix®. Your brain flashes back to last year: you standing around the Chex, mindlessly eating your way to the bottom of the bowl. How did that happen?

Don’t get stuck in the Chex Mix food trap: This traditional holiday fare is chock-full of processed carbohydrates, which results in a blood sugar rollercoaster. You eat the Chex and your blood sugar goes up too high. This may make you feel like you have brain fog, give you hot flashes or swelling, and may even increase your blood pressure. Like a rollercoaster, what goes up must come down. After your blood sugar crashes, you are left feeling anxious, headachy and cranky.

Healthy swap: Instead of Chex Mix, reach for a variety of olives and nuts. Green, black, Kalamata and garlic-stuffed olives not only look great, but also taste delicious. Consider bringing a festive nutcracker and a bowl of Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts to the gathering. The fats in the olives and nuts are healthy and sure to keep your blood sugar stable. Balanced blood sugar means clear thinking, vibrant moods and good energy.


AppeTEASErs—teasing you at every turn

Are you ready for the holiday appetizer spread at your friend’s house? These are all of the frozen varieties (think puffed pastries and deep-fried shrimp) and the little smokies (a.k.a. cocktail wieners).

Don’t get stuck in the appetizer trap: The ingredient labels on processed appetizers have a list as long as a football field, including trans fats in the form of hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats slow your metabolism and create weight gain and inflammation. Over time, they can result in diabetes or even cancer. You may be surprised to learn that the little smokies are packed with sugar. The recipe calls for barbecue sauce and ketchup, which both contain high fructose corn syrup, and brown sugar, another main ingredient. The star of the show—the cocktail wieners—often have hidden chemical additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate). All of these appetizers are inflammatory, meaning they could raise your blood pressure, increase aches and pains, and expand your waistline.  

Healthy swap: Instead of eating those frozen appetizers, bring a Weight & Wellness recipe that’s sure to please. Make the Crockpot® Chicken Drummies and serve them with Super Simple Ranch Dressing. Or make deli-meat pickle roll-ups. Find some nitrate-free deli meat, spread on full-fat cream cheese, roll it around a preservative-free pickle and slice into rounds. Voila! Appetizers of the real food variety are served.


Dips, chips and stomach flips

At your work party, you can’t help but notice the array of dips, chips and pretzel rods on display. And of course there, in all its fake cheesy glory, is the Velveeta® dip you grew up eating during the holidays. Your stomach does a flip-flop because you remember the indigestion it gave you last year.

Don’t get stuck in the chips-and-dips trap: Although serving Velveeta dip is a tradition for many people on special occasions, Velveeta is a processed cheese product. It has several different preservatives and coloring agents to give it a yellow hue and keep it shelf stable. Don’t let chips, pretzels and Velveeta give you heartburn and indigestion at your holiday party.

Healthy swap: Start a new holiday tradition by making Lil’ Dipper. Bring this healthy dip with slices of red and green pepper, broccoli, and sugar snap peas in place of the potato chips and pretzel rods. This will keep you feeling good, and you’ll avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster.


Goodies galore!

As you scan the buffet table at any of your holiday events, your eye will be sure to catch the dessert spread. The cookies seem endless; Spritz cookies, gingerbread, classic sugar cookies, and your favorite since childhood— those green wreath cookies. You say, “I’ll just have one,” but in all honesty, you know that one means two, then three, then more than you can count.  

Of course, where there are cookies there is candy. Peanut brittle, M&M’s®, almond bark, specialty caramels and candy canes…. You think to yourself, “I’m so glad I’m not one of those people who eat candy all the time, so a little bit of holiday candy won’t hurt.” But like the cookies, snacking on candy can sneak up on you and before you know it, you have polished off half the dish.

Don’t get stuck in the dessert and candy trap: Even if you don’t usually indulge in sweet treats, taking part now will—you guessed it—hijack your blood sugar. You already know that desserts and candy are full of sugar, but these goodies are often made with trans fats.

Healthy swap: Say good-bye to those Spritz and gingerbread cookies and hello to a delicious Weight & Wellness Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars dessert. It’s full of holiday cheer with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It calls for real cream cheese and butter—healthy fats that support your blood sugar. Everyone loves chocolate, so why not bring some real dark chocolate? Chocolate with 70 percent cocoa is shown to actually have health benefits stemming from compounds called flavonoids. Mix it up. Bring varieties with almonds, mint essence, sea salt and bits of dried fruit.


There you have it. You can keep fa-la-la-ing and watching the snowflakes fall, but do it all while making food choices that promote health. You can enjoy the season without feeling sluggish or as if your metabolism is heading to the South Pole. Happy holidays and healthy eating from Nutritional Weight & Wellness!


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