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Simple substitutions can make holiday meals healthier

By Cara Murez, HealthDay News
For those who want to enjoy healthier versions of holiday foods, a registered dietitian from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston offers some easy suggestions. Photo by Karen Grigoryan/Shutterstock
For those who want to enjoy healthier versions of holiday foods, a registered dietitian from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston offers some easy suggestions. Photo by Karen Grigoryan/Shutterstock

Holiday meals offer an opportunity to indulge in some favorite foods.

Now for those who want to enjoy healthier versions of these holiday treats, a registered dietitian from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston offers some easy suggestions.

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Veggies can help with the post-meal fatigue you usually feel after a big meal, said Courtney Cary, who works in the Department of Medicine-Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Fiber from veggies can help, even when those veggies are creamed or part of a casserole.

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Instead of using heavy cream in green bean casserole or creamed spinach, use fat-free half and half. You'll still get a creamy flavor, but with little saturated fat.

Replace the solid fat in a recipe with butter or oil to make more heart-healthy dishes, Cary suggests. Use low-fat or part-skim cheese to decrease the saturated fat further.

Get creamy mashed potatoes by using butter and skim milk instead of butter and heavy cream.

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"Eating decadent and rich food one day out of the year won't kill you, but that high concentration of saturated fat over multiple days from leftovers can have an impact," Cary said in a Baylor news release.

Nuts can help offset some of the blood sugar changes from starchy and sugary foods.

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The high fructose corn syrup in canned cranberry sauce is detrimental to blood sugar. Even adding a whole cup of sugar to fresh cranberries is better, Cary suggests. Add nuts to mitigate blood sugar reaction.

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"Adding nuts won't give you that hypoglycemia that you get after having big meals or large amounts of sugar," she said.

Reactive hypoglycemia happens when eating concentrated sugar or sweets without fat, fiber or protein. High concentrations of starchy foods in one sitting can cause this, leading to stress on the body.

Substitutes are possible without compromising on flavor.

Vegetable or canola oil can be used in the place of butter, solid fat or even coconut oil, for example, to decrease the saturated fat content of a dessert, Cary said.

"Even if something calls for coconut oil, swapping it with butter is better because coconut oil has a higher concentration of saturated fat than butter," Cary said.

"Also, adding things like healthy fats, protein and fiber to desserts really helps with the reaction on your blood sugar," she said.

Increase fiber by swapping whole wheat flour for the recipe's white flour. Using wheat flour and adding nuts to the dessert will still cause blood sugar to rise, but it will fall much more slowly instead of going straight down.

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Watch out for too much alcohol consumption, which can affect blood sugar and cause reflux.

Hard liquors have the lowest impact on these, while wine and beer contain sugar. Mixing hard liquors with a sugar-free mixer is a better option, Cary said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on nutrition.

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