With decadent entrèes, spiked beverages and calorie-laden desserts, the holidays seem to threaten healthy diets far and wide. And while indulging a little, especially around the holidays, can be healthy for your mindset, it can be difficult to stay on course.
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 and how to give them a healthy makeover.
Sorry for the letdown, but having "fruit" in the name doesn't make this cake healthy. And in fact, it's quite the opposite. Full of candied fruits, sugar, butter and soaked in spirits, this cake isn't exactly low in calories, explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com.
But luckily, you can make some simple swaps to cut back on your fruitcake's calories. Instead of candied fruits, which are often high in sugar, use dried fruits or even raw fruit, advises Taub-Dix. Also, cut back on the amount of butter and rum you use — chances are, you can still get the same flavor for fewer calories.
Read more: 10 Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet
2. Mulled Wine or Cider
We know a glass of wine can be healthy in moderation, but mulled wine can surprisingly high in sugar. 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, this drink becomes a sugar bomb, says Taub-Dix.
If you want to cut back on the sugar, stick with just the mulled spices in your wine and avoid topping with cider. Also, if you're looking to keep your home smelling seasonal, you can keep the cider or wine mulling on the stove at a low temperature throughout the evening, advises Taub-Dix.
3. Green Bean Casserole
Although green beans are certainly healthy, green bean casserole can be high in sodium and fat (and therefore calories), thanks to the condensed cream of mushroom soup and fried onion pieces, says Taub-Dix.
But you can make swap your cream of mushroom soup for a lower-fat, lower-sodium option to cut back on the calories and subsequent bloating. Fill your casserole with more green beans than onion rings to get a little extra fiber and cut back on the fat.
4. Caramel Popcorn
Plain popcorn is a tasty, high-fiber snack but toss in some caramel sauce and corn syrup, and both the sugar and calories can skyrocket. Popcorn balls are hard to resist but you can make a few healthy tweaks.
Instead, consider cutting back on the caramel and sugar in the recipe. Or, mix your caramel corn with regular air-popped popcorn, recommends Taub-Dix. This will help curtail your sugar intake.
5. Spinach Artichoke Dip
It may contain two vegetables but spinach artichoke dip isn't quite as innocent as it seems. Usually prepared with mayo and sour cream, this appetizer can be high in saturated fats and calories — and that's without accounting for the chips!
"A half-cup serving of spinach artichoke dip is almost 300 calories, but most people don't stop at just half a cup," says Ilyse Schapiro, RD. "Add the chips, and you can 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 a few bites of the tempting dip and walk away. While you're prepping your dip, use Greek yogurt instead of mayo and sour cream to cut calories and add some satiating protein, advises Taub-Dix.
While it's one of the most popular holiday drinks, eggnog is also one of the most caloric. One cup of this whipped cream, egg and bourbon mixture typically contains about 350 calories, 150 milligrams of cholesterol and 20 grams of sugar, according to Rima Kleiner, RDN.
"Choose apple cider or make your own eggnog using skim milk, pasteurized egg whites and nutmeg to drastically reduce calories and fat," she says. 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.
Or, opt for an almond milk alternative that can bring the calorie and sugar totals down, says Taub-Dix. This can make the drink more accessible for different diets or food intolerances.
Read more: All 5 Starbucks Holiday Drinks — Ranked According to Nutrition
7. Pecan Pie
Pecan pie topped with ice cream is a holiday season staple. But there are a few ways you can make your pie even a little bit healthier, according to Taub-Dix. You can cut back on the sugar the recipe calls for or use whole-wheat pastry flour.
And if you're not 100 percent set on pecan pie, pumpkin pie is often lower in calories, says Taub-Dix. But, at the end of the day, if you're a fan of pecan pie, treat yourself to a slice after dinner. The holidays are the holidays, after all.
8. Swedish Meatballs
Don't let their looks fool you. These small appetizers seem cute and innocent, but one cup of meatballs with a creamy sauce can contain as many as 400 calories, according to Schapiro.
Between the butter, cream and white bread used to bind the meatballs and the high-sodium broth in which they're cooked, you'll have a high-calorie dish on your hands. Combine these with a lean protein (like turkey) to cut back on your total calories.
9. Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and vitamins. One whole sweet potato contains more than five times the amount of your daily requirement for vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health. But when you add sweet potatoes to pies and other desserts, these superfoods can turn into a dieter's dilemma.
Luckily, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet so you can generously cut back on the recipe's sugar, says Taub-Dix. Let the sweet potato shine on its own and consider using a whole-wheat or whole-grain crust to add some fiber.
Read more: 7 Low-Sugar Pumpkin Dessert Recipes
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 snack is often high in fat. Luckily, this can easily be remedied by choosing a lower-fat cheese, says Taub-Dix.
11. Sweet Potato Casserole
Traditional sweet potato casserole — made with sweet potatoes mixed with butter, sugar and marshmallows — is calorically dense and high in fat and sugar, says Kleiner. A typical casserole 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. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so feel free to cut back on the added sugar, says Taub-Dix. Consider adding some nuts to your casserole for some texture, fiber and healthy fats.
12. Sausage Stuffing
Not exclusive to Thanksgiving anymore, you would be hard-pressed to find a holiday dinner table without stuffing. However, explore a healthier version or avoid this dish altogether, advises Schapiro.
Often prepared with large quantities of butter and high-fat meats like sausage, this dish can pack on the calories. Instead, consider using leaner protein options, like chicken sausage, recommends Taub-Dix. Try using your meat as more of a topping rather than mixing it into the entire dish.
Read more: 10 Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes From Cauliflower Mash to Pumpkin Peanut Butter Cups
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