Seasonal Diet Tips

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A Guide to Choosing Healthy Holiday Desserts

From pies to cookies, see which seasonal favorites might have the upper hand as a healthy Christmas dessert. Also, learn healthy tips for enjoying those sweet treats!

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If Christmas baking or attending a holiday party, should you bake gingerbread cookies or reach for the sugar cookies instead? What about a traditional pumpkin pie or chocolate mousse recipe to satisfy your sweet tooth?

These are the types of questions you might wonder if searching for the best healthy dessert during the holidays. With assistance from the bistroMD dietitians, see which seasonal favorites might have the upper hand as a healthy Christmas dessert.

How to Choose Healthy Holiday Treats

From pies to cookies, which holiday treats are the healthiest? Find out here and learn healthy tips for enjoying those dessert favorites!

Round 1: Pumpkin Pie vs. Chocolate Mousse Pie

One of these favorites has more calories and fat than the other, which can take a huge toll on health goals without being careful. (Especially if topping with ice cream…)

If trying to reason with the use of real antioxidant-rich cocoa, the benefits are overshadowed by fat and sugar content. Chocolate mousse is overflowing with calories mostly due to the heavy use of whipping cream and sugar. In fact, some variations supply well over 450 calories and 30 grams of fat!

So for all those lovers of that staple, pumpkin pie is simply the better option. The Thanksgiving favorite contains more nutritious ingredients, including pumpkin, eggs, and rich spices. Without the addition of a whipped topping, pumpkin pie averages about 280 calories and 12 grams of fat per slice.

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

To keep calories and portions in tighter control without sacrificing the flavor of pumpkin pie, prepare these pumpkin pie tartlets. They clock in at a mere 150 calories and 12 grams of net carbs per serving!

Round 2: Chocolate Chip Cookies vs. Sugar Cookies

It is about that time again... Getting the mixer out to prepare those infamous holiday cookies. And, chocolate chip and sugar cookies are bound to make an appearance!

But if trying to be smarter and wiser about holiday sweet treats, sugar cookies can blame its name. While they may taste appealing, sugar cookies are nothing more than sugar, butter, and refined flour.

A Nestlé® Toll House® sugar cookie supplies 230 calories, 4.5 g of saturated fat, and 17 g of sugar. A single Nestlé® Toll House® chocolate chip cookie contains 120 calories, 3 g saturated fat, 125 mg sodium, and 10 g sugar.

As a bonus round, what about those sharp-dressed gingerbread men? Without frosting, a single gingerbread cookie provides about 50 calories. A modest bit of icing to craft its attire can tack on about 50 more calories, bringing the total to 100 calories.

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

All-in-all, cookies tend to be good treats to enjoy since portions are already rationed. But remember, easy does it with the number of servings!

Also, try this healthy holiday gingerbread cookie recipe gifted by bistroMD!

Round 3: Candy Canes vs. Andes Mints

Side-by-side, the caloric value of a candy cane and Andes Mint are almost matched at 50 calories per serving. (A serving size is one candy cane and two Andes mints.

Move further down the nutritional label and you will start noticing disparities, as a candy cane contains more sugar. Andes Mints supply dietary fat that red and white striped candy lacks.

But what truly sets apart this battle is not necessarily the ingredients that comprise them. Instead, just how a single Andes Mint can conquer that chocolate craving, without the need of a large candy bar, for only 25 calories.

While candy canes can be enjoyed during the holiday season, their greatest charm may be left hanging on the Christmas tree.

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

Enjoy each modestly, including purchasing the mini candy canes.

If only reaching for either for minty freshness, chew on a piece of sugar-free gum or brush the teeth. This can satisfy a mint craving without adding unnecessary calories.

Round 4: Fruit Cake vs. Cheesecake

The battle of the cakes! Though birthday candles are not included, one cake may blow the other out of the water based on their nutritional values.

(And sorry for the letdown, but having "fruit" in the name does not automatically make the cake healthy…)

Most of the fruits are candied and dried, which are more concentrated in sugar compared to fresh fruits. And not to mention, the laundry list of other ingredients, including refined flour, butter, and white and brown sugars, that are all soaked in alcohol...

A typical slice of this old-time classic clocks in about 400 calories or more!

Okay, so what about cheesecake? Mostly dependent on the dessert recipe, most use simple and minimal ingredients, including sugar, cream cheese, and butter.

Cheesecake certainly reigns supreme on this food fight.

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

Enjoy fruit and cheesecake? Why not have the best of both worlds with fruity cheesecake bites? Oh, and each serving clocks in at only 160 calories with 7 grams of protein!

Ingredients:

For the crust:

• 3 full-sized graham crackers
• ¼ cup slivered almonds
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

For the filling:

• 5-ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
• 5-ounces plain Greek yogurt
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon honey
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• Favorite diced fruits, including those from the fruit cake itself i.e. pineapple, cherries, raisins

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line muffin tin with 6 paper liners.

2. In a food processor, blend together the crust ingredients until crumbly.

3. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of crust mixture into muffin liners, pressing down to flatten.

4. For the filling, beat cream cheese until smooth in a large bowl. Add Greek yogurt, egg, honey, and vanilla extract and mix until well-incorporated.

5. Add in blueberries and gently mix until slightly beaten.

6. Pour mixture into liners, approximately halfway, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the center has set.

7. Remove from oven, cool at room temperature, then chill for at least an hour in the fridge.

8. Peel cheesecakes from the liner, garnish with chopped pecans and more fresh fried as desired.

Round 5: Peanut Brittle vs. Pecan Pie

It is well-known both peanuts and pecans are suppliers of healthy fats. However, including in sweet desserts transform their nutritional value entirely. (And not necessarily for the better...)

Pie may have won the previous battle. However, one slice of pecan pie can pack around 540 calories. And not to mention, more than 30 grams of sugar supplied by brown sugar, maple syrup, and other potential sweeteners.

On the other hand, a one-ounce serving of peanut brittle supplies about 140 calories. Enjoying a small piece may be able to curb that sweet tooth.

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

Want the benefits of nuts without the worry of added sugar from peanut brittle and pecan pie? Stick to the mixed nut bowl or top onto Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. Not only will it offer crunch, but the Greek yogurt and fruit provide protein and fiber that is sure to keep you satisfied.

Round 6: Hot Cocoa vs. Eggnog

Both hot cocoa and eggnog are seasonal and sippable favorites come the holiday season. However, one has the evident upper hand when it comes to nutrition content.

While eggnog does contain protein, it comes with the steep price of calories and fat. Regular eggnog could have as much as 180 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat per half-cup serving. This is mostly because eggnog is made with whole milk and heavy cream. And not to mention the added sugar...

On the flip side, hot cocoa tends to be lower in both calories and saturated fat. However, this can vary based on the packet and type of milk used. Generally, though, an instant hot cocoa packet contains about 150 calories.

These calories can dramatically fluctuate depending on the type of milk used and if whipped cream was added. On average, though, hot cocoa wins the battle of fewer calories.

So, with all of its low-calorie goodness and it's sweet chocolate flavor, hot cocoa is definitely the way to go this holiday season!

Healthy Holiday Treat Tip:

In addition to being lower in calories, hot cocoa actually has a number of different health benefits. And especially if making hot cocoa with natural cocoa powder, you will actually be drinking a healthy dose of antioxidants.

To ensure its healthiness, give this homemade hot cocoa recipe a try this holiday season! It can also be modified to take on many flavors such as dark chocolate peppermint. Needing a dairy-free option? Swap out dairy milk with coconut milk. Really, the options can be endless!

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on November 26, 2019.

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