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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
There are some key foods that are best left on your blacklist. Photo Credit: Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/GettyImages

Decadent desserts, sweet beverages and calorie-laden sides ... holidays seem to threaten healthy diets far and wide. With festive gatherings 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 also 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 to find out about the unhealthiest holiday dishes.

1. Fruitcake
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1 Fruitcake

Sorry for the letdown, but having “fruit” in the name doesn’t make this cake healthy. And in fact, 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.

2. Mulled Wine or Cider
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2 Mulled Wine or Cider

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 stuff and enjoy a simple glass of wine instead.

3. Green Bean Casserole
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3 Green Bean Casserole

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.

4. Caramel Popcorn
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4 Caramel Popcorn

Plain popcorn is a tasty, high-fiber snack. But 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 popcorn 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.

5. Spinach Artichoke Dip
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5 Spinach Artichoke Dip

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. “A half-cup serving of spinach artichoke dip is almost 300 calories, but most people don’t stop at just half a cup," warns nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro. "Add the chips, and you end up with 450 calories or more!” If you have the urge to dip, reach for raw veggies and salsa or low-calorie dressings instead. Or, have just one bite of the tempting dip and walk away.

6. Eggnog
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6 Eggnog

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 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.

7. Pecan Pie
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7 Pecan Pie

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.

8. Swedish Meatballs
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8 Swedish Meatballs

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 high-sodium broth in which they’re cooked, you could have a real diet disaster on your hands. Try to pass on these little devils and fill up on some veggies instead. Save your calories for something more substantial.

9. Sweet Potato Pie
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9 Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet potatoes are 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 loads of sugar and fat. Add ice cream and other delicious additions, and the calories keep piling on. Make a healthier version of this dish by topping sweet potatoes with a small pat of butter and some cinnamon, brown sugar and spices.

10. Cheese Ball
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10 Cheese Ball

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's packed into one cheese ball.” Instead of cheese balls and crackers, head for the hummus and veggies.

11. Sweet Potato Casserole
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11 Sweet Potato Casserole

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. A typical recipe 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.

12. Sausage Stuffing
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12 Sausage Stuffing

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.

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Which holiday dishes tempt you the most, and what's your plan of attack for braving the festive fare at parties? Are any of the foods on this list among your personal favorites? Do you try to prepare them more healthily? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Related: The 12 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

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