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The 12 Most Unhealthy Holiday Dishes and Drinks to Avoid

author image Sara Schapmann
Sara Schapmann is a versatile writer with more than 10 years experience. She has written for a variety of industries, from documentary television to higher education and health care. She writes for several websites covering topics such as entertainment, health and well-being, and education.

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The 12 Most Unhealthy Holiday Dishes and Drinks to Avoid

Decadent desserts, savory stuffing and marshmallow-covered sides -- holidays seem to threaten healthy diets far and wide. With cocktail parties, company gatherings and seasonal celebrations packing the calendar for almost two months straight, it can be difficult for many of us to stay on course and emerge in the New Year unscathed by weight gain. It’s no fun -- not to mention nearly impossible -- to skip all of the delicious indulgences of the season. However, there are some key foods that are best left on your blacklist. Read on and find out about the unhealthiest holiday dishes.

1. Fruitcake
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Sorry for the letdown, but having “fruit” in the name doesn’t make this cake healthy. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Made of candied and dried fruits, ginger, flour, butter, eggs, spices and then soaked in alcoholic spirits, a typical slice of this old-time sweet can clock in at more than 400 calories.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive

2. Mulled Wine or Cider
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We know wine is good for us, but mulled wine -- not so much. The warming cloves, anise and fruit zest give it a cold-weather appeal, but once you add in honey and fruit juice or apple cider on top of the wine, this drink has become an unnecessarily high-calorie, high-sugar bomb. Some recipes top out at more than 200 calories per serving and 23 grams of sugar. Steer clear of the mulled and enjoy a glass of just wine instead.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

3. Green Bean Casserole
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Just because a green bean is a vegetable doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear with this casserole. This staple holiday dish is calorie-dense and full of sodium, thanks to the condensed cream of mushroom soup and fried onions. One serving contains at least 230 calories and about 500 milligrams of sodium. All of the sodium can lead to bloat, which can kill any party mood.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive

4. Caramel Popcorn
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Popcorn -- solo -- is a tasty, high-fiber snack. Mix it with sugar and corn syrup and the calories and grams of sugar add up. Popcorn balls and caramel popcorn are often served at holiday parties, and you may get a big tin of it as a gift. Rima Kleiner, a nutrition expert and wellness consultant, advises sticking to your healthy eating plan by snacking on air-popped instead. Add a little butter and salt to it, or nix the salt and make your own “sweet” corn by adding a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar to plain popcorn.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

5. Spinach Artichoke Dip
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Dips, dressings, finger foods and cookies decorate tables and bar counters throughout the season. Spinach artichoke dip sounds like it can‘t be all that bad -- it contains two vegetables, after all. But this seemingly innocent appetizer packs a high-calorie punch, warns nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro: “A half-cup serving of spinach artichoke dip is almost 300 calories, but most people don’t stop at just half a cup. Add the chips and it is easily around 450 calories or more!” Indulge in this tasty treat and you may consume an entire meal’s worth of calories. If you have the urge to dip, reach for raw veggies and salsa or low-calorie dressings -- or have just one bite of the tempting dip and walk away.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive

6. Eggnog
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One of the most popular drinks of the holiday season, eggnog is also one of the most caloric. Nutrition expert Rima Kleiner warns that one cup of this sweet, whipped-cream, egg and bourbon mixture typically contains about 350 calories, 150 milligrams of cholesterol and 20 grams of sugar. “Choose apple cider or make your own eggnog using skim milk, pasteurized egg whites and nutmeg to drastically reduce calories and fat,” says Kleiner. These substitutions can put a healthy spin on this traditional beverage, and you won’t feel like you’re missing out on a holiday favorite.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

7. Pecan Pie
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Pecan pie drenched in ice cream: It’s a favorite dessert of the holiday season. Alas, this popular pie is one of the worst calorie culprits out there. Holiday season certainly calls for pies, but do your best to stay away from the pecan variety. One slice can pack around 540 calories, 33 grams of sugar and 22 grams of fat, warns nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro. Explore the many healthy recipes out there that help pare down the calories, fat and sugar, or reach for a sliver of pumpkin pie instead. The pumpkin pie contains less calories, sugar and fat.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive

8. Swedish Meatballs
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Don’t let their looks fool you. These small appetizers look cute and innocent, but one cup of these tiny meatballs -- with a creamy sauce -- could contain as many as 400 calories, according to nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro. Between the butter, cream and white bread used to bind the meatballs and the broth in which they’re cooked -- loading them with sodium -- you could have a real diet disaster on your hands. Try to pass on these little devils or fill up on some veggies instead. Save your calories for something more substantial. You’ll spread the love among your favorite foods more effectively when you don’t let these temptations eat up a large part of your daily caloric intake.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

9. Sweet Potato Pie With Whipped Cream
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Sweet potatoes can be a healthy dish. They’re packed with nutrients and vitamins. One serving of sweet potatoes contains two times the amount of your daily requirement for vitamin A. But when you add sweet potatoes to pies and other desserts, these superfoods can turn into a dieter‘s dilemma. Austin nutritionist Dr. Blessing Anyatonwu warns that one slice of sweet potato pie with marshmallow meringue topping can contain more than 500 calories and is packed with sugar and fat. Add ice cream and other delicious additions and the calories keep piling on. If you desire a little bit of this traditional taste during the holidays, try sweet potatoes with a small pat of butter and some cinnamon, brown sugar and spices to curb the craving.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive

10. Cheese Ball
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Holiday parties would not be the same without these tasty appetizers. A favorite hostess gift and appetizer served with crackers and crusty bread, this innocent-looking snack is loaded with fat calories. Nutritionist Dr. Blessing Anyatonwu says, “Cheese balls are full of saturated fat, which is OK in moderation, but not so healthy when it is packed into one cheese ball.” Instead of cheese balls and crackers, head for the hummus and veggies.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

11. Sweet Potato Casserole
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The traditional sweet potato casserole -- sweet potatoes mixed with butter, sugar and marshmallows -- is loaded with calories, fat and sugar, warns nutrition expert Rima Kleiner. Typical recipes can contain around 460 calories and 16 grams of fat per serving. But you don’t have to miss out on this holiday dish completely. As a substitute, make a lower-calorie recipe that cuts down on butter and enhances flavor with citrus zest. A lightened-up casserole has only around 250 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving. You might also satisfy a sweet-potato craving by sprinkling cinnamon and brown sugar over a roasted sweet potato and adding a pat of butter.

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

12. Sausage Stuffing
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Not exclusive to Thanksgiving anymore, you would be hard pressed to find a holiday dinner table without stuffing. However, certified dietitian nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro advises exploring a healthier version or avoiding this dish altogether. Loaded with butter and high-fat meats, this savory classic can come in at more than 350 calories and almost 17 grams of fat per serving. Explore one of the many healthier options available, including recipes that use fruit, wild rice, quinoa and mushrooms instead of white bread or meat. You can also use broth instead of added fat to keep the stuffing moist.

Related: 53 Healthy Holiday Gifts You'll Want to Give and Receive


Which holiday dishes tempt you the most, and what is your plan of attack for braving the festive fare at parties, work and around just about every corner this season? Are any of the foods on this list among your personal favorites? Do you try to prepare them more healthily? If so, share your tips. Leave a comment below and let us know.

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