Unhealthy Holiday Dishes That Everyone Needs to Stop Eating — and What to Make Instead

While the holidays are a great time to indulge, you don’t have to expose your body to the main components of holiday dishes: saturated fats, cholesterol overload, and an ungodly amount of sugar. Not only are they a nightmare for weight loss and diet, but they’re extremely bad for your overall health, too.

That said, when it comes to some of these traditional holiday dishes, you can have your cake and eat it too — without sacrificing your health for a little indulgence. Up ahead, we share some of the most unhealthy holiday dishes and what to make instead.

1. Candied yams

Candied Yams on a silver rack.

This classic favorite is a little too rich. | Shiyali/iStock/Getty Images

Sweet potatoes may be a superfood, but when they come in the form of candied yams, they’re hardly healthy. Most recipes call for about 6 cups of sugar (yikes!) which can equal about 30-40 grams of sugar per serving. That’s at least 5 more grams than the recommended daily amount for women (7 more for men). Another reason to opt for something healthier? One serving of candied yams can equal about 400 calories.

We share a healthy, yet delicious alternative to candied yams, ahead.

Healthy alternative: Roasted sweet potato slices

Plate of sweet potato fries with a side of dip.

Sweet potato fries are packed with protein and fiber. | Christine Skopec/Culture Cheat Sheet

Instead of candied yams, try equally as satisfying roasted sweet potatoes. The natural sweetness from the potatoes satisfy your sweet tooth and are an excellent source of vitamins and fiber. That said, if you wanted to sweeten things up a bit, you can dress the slices in cinnamon and a drizzle of raw honey.

2. Eggnog

Cinnamon sticks inside egg nog.

There is a healthier alternative to this traditional drink. | iStock.com

Eggnog may be a holiday classic, but with fattening ingredients like sugar, eggs, and whipping cream, the tasty drink raises some health-conscious eyebrows. As far as nutrition goes, one cup of eggnog can equal about half of the USDA’s recommended daily amount of cholesterol and almost an entire day’s worth of sugar (about 21 grams).

We share a healthy (and equally satisfying) alternative, ahead.

Healthy alternative: Coffee with gingerbread collagen creamer

Container of Vital Proteins Collagen Creamer.

This healthy alternative is full of flavor. | Vital Proteins

Instead of eggnog, try a cup of decaf coffee with Vital Proteins Gingerbread Collagen Creamer ($29). Enriched with energy-boosting healthy fat derived from coconut milk, body (and beauty) benefiting collagen, 10 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of sugar, this healthy alternative to eggnog gives your coffee a creamy, frothy texture, has a festive taste, and packs hard-to-beat- health benefits.

3. Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie slice on a white plate.

The night wouldn’t be complete without pie … but watch out for the extra calories. | Bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

While pie may be one of our favorite things about holiday dinners, they’re not exactly the healthiest dish served. Pumpkin pie in particular can be high in calories, full of sugar, and include toppings like whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.

We share a healthier way to get your pumpkin pie fix, ahead.

Healthy alternative: Pumpkin spice kale smoothie

A green smoothie on a white table with autumn leaves.

Your waist line will thank you for choosing this sweet delicious smoothie. | The Chic Life

Want to satisfy your pumpkin pie craving with a much healthier alternative? Try a pumpkin spice kale smoothie. This recipe from The Chic Life is one of our favorites. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cups of kale, ripped into small pieces
  • 1 cup of original unsweetened rice milk, almond milk, or coconut milk
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ¼ cup of pumpkin
  • ⅛ – ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • Honey or maple syrup as an optional sweetener

Directions:

  • Blend all ingredients together until smooth (you may need to add more milk for desired texture)
  • Pour into a festive glass
  • Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon on top for decoration and serve

4. Cheese balls

Cheese balls on a white plate.

Everyone loves a good cheese ball, but it is time to watch out for your family’s health. | iStock.com

Another holiday dish to avoid? Cheese balls. While they make a delicious hors d’oeuvres, they’re loaded with saturated fats. And that’s not all. Typically made by combining grated cheese, cream cheese, and spices, they can be super high in calories and may contain up to an entire day’s worth of recommended fat intake.

See a healthier option, ahead!

Healthy alternative: Cashew cheese balls

A platter of cashew cheese ball with bread slices.

Your vegan guests will be thankful for this yummy option. | It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken

Still hoping to serve cheese balls at your holiday get together? Try making a cashew cheese ball instead! These dairy-free, nutritious cheese balls taste great on crackers and bread (and pair nicely with wine).

What’s more? Made from whole food ingredients like cashews, lemon, garlic and coconut oil, they contain plenty of healthy fats (unlike traditional cheese balls). We love this cranberry and thyme vegan cheese ball recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.

5. Bûche de Noël

A chocolate yule log on a wooden board.

Enjoy this dessert sparingly. | Etorres69/iStock/Getty Images

While the holidays may be a great time to save room for dessert, you’ll want to steer clear of high-calorie, high-sugar items, like Bûche de Noël, or Yule log. One slice of this holiday cake can equal about half your daily calorie intake and double the daily recommended amount of sugar (a whopping 47 grams!).

Craving chocolate cake? We share a delicious healthy brownie alternative, next.

Healthy alternative: Sweet potato brownies

Sweet potatoes on a wooden board.

Sweet potatoes are super versatile — you can even make great brownies out of them. | Margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, brownies can be a great way to do so. Especially since they so easily disguise healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes. Here’s a delicious sweet potato brownie recipe from Freeletics:

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-large sweet potatoes
  • ⅔ cup of ground almonds
  • ½ cup of coconut flour
  • 14 medjool dates
  • 4 tablespoons of raw cacao
  • 3 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
  • A pinch of salt
  • A handful of nuts, cacao nibs, or additional toppings (optional)

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°
  • Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and boil them for 8-10 minutes, then add them to the food processor with the pitted dates
  • Put the remaining ingredients into a bowl before mixing in the sweet potato and date combination and stir well
  • Place mixture into a lined baking dish and cook for about 20 minutes. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes outside of the oven before serving

6. Mashed potatoes

A white bowl full of mashed potatoes.

This classic side dish has more calories than we’d like. | iStock.com

Potatoes may not be bad for you, but the butter, whole milk, and salt that goes into mashed potatoes can really get you. Not to mention: Toppings like sour cream and bacon bits can only add to the high calorie, cholesterol, and fat dish.

Instead of mashed potatoes, try a healthy alternative made from a different kind of vegetable. We share the details, ahead.

Healthy alternative: Cauliflower mash

Mock potatoes garnished with parsley.

Cauliflower lovers will enjoy this variation of the savory mashed favorite. | Rojoimages/iStock/Getty Images

This holiday season, skip the mashed potatoes and go for something a bit lighter. We love this healthy cauliflower mash recipe from As Easy As Apple Pie, as it boasts the same delicious taste without the alarming nutrition facts.

7. Pecan pie

Pecan pie on a white plate.

Don’t kid yourself, you can never eat a “small slice” of pecan pie. | iStock.com

Pecan pie is hands down one of the worst holiday pies — and possibly dessert options — out there. Mostly made up of high-calorie pecans, butter, corn syrup, and sugar, one slice of pecan pie can amount to half your daily recommended calories, almost an entire day’s worth of fat, and more than the daily recommended amount of sugar.

That said, if you love pecan pie and still want to serve it at your holiday gathering, there are healthier options. We share one, ahead.

Healthy alternative: Pecan pralines

Pralines on a powdered surface.

These yummy desserts are super healthy. | GankaTt/iStock/Getty Images

Get the same crunchy, pecan-y taste as pecan pie with this healthy pecan pralines recipe from Freeletics. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cups of pecan nuts
  • 15 medjool dates (pitted)
  • 4 tablespoons of de-oiled cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup

Instructions:

  • Blend the pecan nuts using a food processor or hand blender until crumbly
  • Add dates, cocoa powder and maple syrup, then blend until you have a sticky consistency
  • Put mixture in a very small casserole dish and press down
  • Allow to cool in the freezer for one hour, then cut into 1 cm thick cubes
  • Place a remaining pecan nut on top of each cube for decoration

Other healthy alternatives for holiday dishes

Red apples in wooden bowl.

A sweet baked apple is just as yummy. | iStock.com

There are ways to make almost every holiday dish healthy (or, at the very least, healthier). Here are some other ideas to help you get through the holiday season without consuming all of the calories, cholesterol, and fat.

Apple pie: Instead of apple pie, try making a baked apple. You’ll still get the same spiced, tangy flavor, without the extra calories. Try this recipe from All Recipes.

Green bean casserole: While it’s technically a veggie dish, green bean casserole is a notoriously unhealthy way to get your greens. Instead, try roasting brussels sprouts with garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Creamed spinach: Another “green” dish to watch out for? Creamed spinach. Instead of serving this fattening holiday food, try making a fresh spinach salad with seasonal toppings, such as dried cranberries and pecan crumbs.

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