This joyous time of year can be a wee bit challenging for the health conscious. Bouncing from holiday party to family gathering, we’re confronted with more unhealthy Christmas recipes at every turn: sugary confections, festive foods, and creamy, gluttonous hors d’oeuvres. Resisting these simple holiday pleasures is no easy task-unless you have the will power of a saint.
While it’s okay to loosen the proverbial noose a bit to embrace the festivities and savor the season’s Christmas recipes, we have to be cautious of how often we tell ourselves … just this once. Why? Because as your calendar piles up with yuletide affairs, once turns into several nights a week, and one handful turns into four. This, experts say, is why weight gain over the holidays is tricky to undo.
“Most Americans who gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve generally don’t lose that weight ever again,” says acclaimed surgeon, author, and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. “Some meals people eat during the holidays can add up to 2,000 calories or more, so they could actually put on an extra pound every day if they keep indulging like this. Once they become used to the higher calorie intake, it may seem like normal and they continue on that level.”
Additionally, we tend to underestimate what’s inside these foods, whether it’s just one sugar cookie or a spoonful of green bean casserole. We justify it by practicing portion control, but in the process, we overlook just how much sugar, saturated fat, cholesterol, and unhealthy calories might be in one bite. The answer might surprise you.
To help make your “what to eat” decisions a bit easier this holiday season, here are a few unhealthy foods you should work up the courage to avoid at your upcoming holiday work party or annual family dinner. Bon appétit!
1. Swedish Meatballs: A hot commodity at employee holiday parties, Swedish meatballs seem harmless. But, this traditional cultural dish (and IKEA’s claim to fame) is made with white refined bread (or breadcrumbs), butter, heavy cream, and sodium-heavy beef broth. Pass, please.
2. Candied Yams: It’s easy to assume that candied yams are a healthier option thanks to the recipe’s starring vegetable: sweet potatoes. However, the starchy, rich vegetable is almost an afterthought in this dish. The main contenders? Butter. Brown sugar. Salt. Marshmallows. Just one serving can deliver more sugar than your daily recommended intake and up to 420 calories.
3. Green Bean Casserole: Like candied yams, unhealthy ingredients such as cream, salt, sugar, and fried onions overshadow the vegetable in this dish. While all recipes call for different ingredients, the most commonly used recipe-the one on the back of the French’s French Fried Onions®-offers an unhealthy serving of modified food starch, vegetable oil, MSG, saturated fat, palm oil, and sodium. In fact, one batch of green bean casserole contains more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium-almost twice the recommended daily intake.
4. Spinach and Artichoke Dip: Anyone who has scooped a dollop of creamy spinach and artichoke dip will tell you it’s nearly impossible to take just one bite. So, consider this: just half a cup, about three to four scoops, can contain between 300 to 400 calories of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Traditional recipes call for a variety of cheeses (sour cream, cream cheese, and Parmesan cheese) and mayonnaise-and that doesn’t account for the tortilla chips or refined bread that you use to dip. Stick to the hummus, tahini, or salsa dip instead.
5. Cheese Balls: Another holiday party favorite, these dressed-up balls of joy are essentially just an unhealthy concoction of saturated fat and cholesterol. Traditionally made with cream cheese, specialty or shredded cheese, and spices, one ball can contain more than a whopping 500 unhealthy calories. Not to mention, you’ll eat up more than half of your recommended intake of cholesterol and almost an entire day’s worth of fat-and that’s only if your host decided not to roll those cheese balls in bacon. Next …
6. Fruitcake: A holiday staple, fruitcake may contain remnants of fruit, but it’s an indulgence better left on the dessert foods table. Pre-packaged brands can contain a running list of unhealthy additives-high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, margarine, milk, and artificial color-while homemade recipes call for many of the same ingredients … and then some. Expect up to 420 calories for one slice.
7. Flavored Popcorn: Tri-flavored popcorn tins are a holiday party host’s dream: they are cheap, festive, easy to serve, and a dime a dozen at your local drugstore. But, it’s a conversational munchie that comes with a price to your health (and belly). Think corn syrup solids, sugar, artificial flavor, cheese, buttermilk, MSG, and corn oil.
[Editor’s Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]
Image: Jessica Rossi