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Healthy Holiday Food Ideas

November 2010

by Laura Nathan-Garner

biscottiMaking healthy food choices can be tough during the holidays, especially at gatherings where festive snacks abound But who says holiday snacks have to be high in fat and sugar?

“Many holiday foods can easily be replaced with more nutritious alternatives — without sacrificing festive smells and flavors,” says Sally Scroggs, health education manager at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center.

That’s good news because a cookie or two, a slice of cake, and a few trips to the chip and dip bowl can easily add up to more than a meal’s worth of calories.

“Most of these holiday treats are filled with empty calories and don’t provide the nutrients your body needs to reduce your risk of diseases like cancer,” Scroggs says. “Plus, they may not keep you full, so you end up eating more, taking in more calories and gaining weight. This could, over time, increase your risk for some cancers.”

Whether you’re hosting or attending a holiday gathering, try these healthy party snack swaps.

1. Instead of salted mixed nuts or candied pecans, serve spiced toasted almonds.almonds

The salt in mixed nuts and the butter and sugar in candied nuts add unnecessary calories to nuts’ nutritional perks.

By replacing salt, oil and butter with cayenne pepper and thyme, you trim added fat. This recipe for spiced toasted almonds also delivers cancer-fighting vitamin E, as well as magnesium and fiber.

“Nuts are naturally high in fat, so don’t eat more than one portion of nuts,” Scroggs says. “That’s one-fourth cup, or about as many nuts as you can fit into the palm of your hand.”

2. Instead of chocolate peppermint bark, serve strawberries with dark chocolate.

The white and milk chocolate used in most peppermint bark have slightly more saturated fat than dark chocolate.strawberries in chocolate

For a healthier treat, serve strawberries with melted dark chocolate or dip the strawberries in dark chocolate and chill them ahead of time. Either combo can satisfy chocolate cravings for a fraction of the sugar and fat. Added bonus: dark chocolate’s antioxidants and the ellagic acid, vitamin C and fiber in the strawberries help reduce your risk of cancer.

3. Instead of gingerbread cake, serve ginger spice biscotti.

Gingerbread cake is loaded with butter and sugar. Go easy on the butter and sugar by trying this recipe for ginger spice biscotti.  It delivers festive ginger flavor at a fraction of the calories.

Even healthier: Give guests an antioxidant boost by serving the biscotti with green tea.

4. Instead of melted cheese dip, serve chunky cranberry dip.

Melted cheese dip packs on the fat and calories. Get more seasonal flavor and less fat in this lower-calorie chunky cranberry dip recipe. Added bonus: The fiber in the cranberries helps fight cancer.

Even healthier: Serve the dip with whole grain crackers instead of chips. Whole grain provides vitamins, minerals and plant compounds, which curb cancer risks. And, the fiber helps you stay full.

5. Instead of fruitcake, serve angel food cake topped with fresh berries.strawberries in chocolate

Fruitcake is loaded with calories from fat. But angel food cake is generally fat-free. Topping it with fresh berries provides fruitcake’s one nutritional perk — the fruit — without the butter. Plus, the fiber, vitamin C and ellagic acid in the compote’s berries may help prevent cancer.

“Be realistic. You should certainly try to make healthy food choices so you don’t gain weight during the holidays,” Scroggs says. “But don’t beat yourself up over a moment of weakness or deprive yourself of occasional holiday treats.”

Related Links
Control Your Holiday Hunger (MD Anderson)
The Science of Sweets (American Institute for Cancer Research)
Who Needs Snacks? (American Institute for Cancer Research)

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