The holidays are about family, friends and eating — a lot. For many, it is hard not to overindulge when your favorite holiday dishes come out.
“Food is a joy,” says Connie Cheng, wellness director for Gold’s Gym and a registered dietician. “Food shouldn’t bring burden or stress. Instead, focus on how to still have a great time with your family while allowing yourself to enjoy the foods that are associated with the holidays.”
So, for your holiday meals, don’t give up the flavor. Instead, get more nutrition with healthy swaps from some of our favorite bloggers. Here are five healthy ingredient substitutes you can make this holiday to still stay on track.
1. Ground turkey (replaces ground beef)
Lean ground turkey has less saturated fat than lean ground beef, making it a perfect holiday ingredient substitute. “Saturated fats should be limited to less than 7 percent of your total calories, because they raise your levels of bad cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease,” Cheng says. “However, there is a place for every nutrient in a balanced diet. For example, full-fat dairy products may be higher in saturated fat, but there are certain health benefits from the fatty acids in those products.”
Turkey can taste dry if it’s not made with a liquid or sauce that can add moisture. So when using turkey instead of red meat, consider how you’re going to keep it moist. “Adding sauce or braising it in some kind of broth or sauce is the best way to prepare it,” Cheng says.
2. Cauliflower (replaces white potatoes)
Cauliflower is a part of the cruciferous vegetable family, known to have vital nutrients that protect cells from DNA damage.
“Cauliflower is rich in folate and vitamins C, E and K,” Cheng explains. “It’s also lower in calories, has more fiber and nutrients and affects your blood sugar less.” The body digests white potatoes, a simple sugar, quickly, so the sugar goes straight into your bloodstream. By contrast, the body digests cauliflower, which is high in fiber, more slowly. That prevents spikes in your blood sugar.
When cooking cauliflower, remember to drain it well. Cheng recommends squeezing out the moisture with a cheesecloth.
3. Sweet potatoes (replaces white grains)
Sweet potatoes not only replace white potatoes but also grains like white bread and croutons. Nutritionally, the fiber content in sweet potatoes is higher than that of white bread. And since sweet potatoes are a complex carb, they provide additional nutrients that you don’t find in white grains.
“Because sweet potatoes are orange, they have beta-carotene [that converts into vitamin A], and vitamin C and magnesium that makes it anti-inflammatory,” Cheng says. “Inflammation is really the root of all chronic diseases. So you get that additional benefit.”
Sweet potatoes have the same natural sweetness to them that white grains do, so you’re not giving up any of the flavor with this ingredient substitute. And when cooking, you’ll intensify that flavor by seasoning the potatoes well with extra herbs and pepper.
4. Spaghetti squash (replaces noodles)
Naturally, vegetables like spaghetti squash are going to have more vitamins, minerals and fiber than any kind of white grain pasta you’d usually cook with. Spaghetti squash also has a lower calorie content and less of an effect on your blood sugar than white grain noodles.
“It’s not as severe as cauliflower drying-wise,” Cheng explains. “But make sure you’re laying out the strained squash in a large bowl lined with several layers of paper towels to absorb the extra liquid.”
5. Dark chocolate (replaces milk chocolate)
Dark chocolate includes plant chemicals called flavonoids that help make it anti-inflammatory. It also includes antioxidants that reverse free radicals, particles that can damage your cells.
“These antioxidants are important to include in your diet,” Cheng says. “When free radicals are reversed, that lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic diseases.”
When consumed in moderation, dark chocolate can also lower your blood pressure and the bad cholesterol (LDL). But for it to actually have these benefits, use dark chocolate that has a percentage of cocoa beans of at least 72 percent.
If you’re not used to the bitter taste of dark chocolate, consider adding stevia. Or, depending on what you’re making, add some raw honey to sweeten things up a bit.