Holiday Foods You Didn't Know Were Bad For You

Staying healthy during the holidays is no easy feat. You know to steer clear of the cocktails and gooey pies. You won't go near the construction site of a gingerbread house, but despite your best efforts, you still seem to head into New Year's with the resolution of fitting back into your pre-Thanksgiving jeans. How did this happen without indulging in a single holiday cookie? The truth is, many classic holiday dishes are packed with hidden calories or unhealthy fats you didn't know were there. Here's a list of some of the sneakiest contenders.


Yams in their purest form are a great source of vitamins and antioxidants. However, if you forgo actual yams and instead go with cans to simplify your already-busy holiday cooking schedule, they are often full of sugary syrup. Gisela Bouvier, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of B Nutrition and Wellness, warns us, "The addition of the syrup alone adds sugar and calories to the yams themselves. On top of that, most holiday yam recipes will include brown sugar, butter, and marshmallows. All of these ingredients will add additional sugar, fat, and calories to just one of your side dishes. A 1/2 cup serving of candied yams will add about 250 calories, 10g of sugar, and 6g of fat to your holiday meal."

Instead of mashed yams with loads of butter and sugary marshmallows, opt for a healthier dish, such as these hasselback sweet potatoes.

Cranberry sauce

A holiday meal isn't complete without cranberry sauce. It's true that cranberries can give your body a boost of antioxidants and your taste buds a boost of flavor, but many recipes are also loaded with sugar. "While cranberries are a great source of vitamins E, K, and C, a can of cranberry sauce has 105 grams of sugar per serving and can add over 400 calories to your holiday dinner," says Cara Walsh, R.D. of Medifast California. Many homemade recipes call for added sugar, as well.

Cut out all the refined sugars by making your own cranberry sauce at home. This recipe is sweetened simply by adding fresh orange juice and pure maple syrup.


We all love sitting around the Yule log with a rich cup of eggnog, but this classic beverage is one of the worst culprits for high-calorie and sugar intake. "The combination of sugar, eggs, and whipped cream is already unhealthy, but add to this the necessary serving of bourbon, and you have a drink that comes to a massive 343 calories and nearly an entire day's recommended daily sugar intake!" says Lifesum Nutritionist Frida Harju. Beyond the sugar and calories, eggnog may also harm your skin. According to Celebrity Nutritionist Paula Simpson, "The excess dairy can aggravate skin health, particularly blemish-prone conditions."

Fortunately, dairy-free options are abundant, and this dairy free, egg free 'egg'nog gives you all of the delicious flavor, without the consequences or the calories.

Hot cocoa

Christmas morning may not be complete without a creamy cup of hot cocoa, but this classic beverage can contain 300 calories or more per serving and is high in saturated fat, as well as added sugars, according to Tulsa Cancer Hospital's registered dietitian, Matt Rinehart. Add whipped cream and marshmallows, and you're looking at even more unwanted calories and sugar. As a healthier alternative, Rinehart suggests drinking spiced chai tea. "This contains about 100 calories per serving and includes a variety of ingredients that have health benefits such as cloves, cardamom, black tea, ginger and cinnamon sticks."

Apple cider

Instead of heading to the bar for a sugary cocktail, you decided to play the healthy card and opt for a steaming cup of apple cider. While you avoided the negative impact of alcohol, apple cider is just as bad from a caloric and sugar perspective. "One cup of apple cider will add about 240 calories to your holiday meal," says Gisela Bouvier, registered dietitian nutritionist. "Many think that by drinking cider instead of a glass of wine or a beer, they are making a healthier choice. However, in terms of calories and sugar, the damage is just the same."

Mixed nuts

Dry roasted nuts are an excellent holiday snack option. They're packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats, but things get tricky when you consider preparation and portion sizes. Nuts roasted in fatty oils or doused with salt add pointless calories and sodium. You also have to be wary of portion sizes. "One cup of mixed nuts has a jaw-dropping 814 calories and 70 grams of fat," says Registered Dietitian Matt Rinehart. "Either skip the nuts, or count out 15-20 pieces on your plate so you have a reasonable portion (approximately 150 calories)."


You've carefully selected a lean piece of turkey meat. Your sides include freshly roasted veggies and just a tiny bit of cranberry sauce. Your plate is a pile of healthy success. Then you pour on the gravy without a second thought, and undo all that goodness. "Homemade gravy is often thickened by adding white flour or corn-starch which adds carbohydrates and sugar to the recipe, whilst the traditional addition of fat drippings adds considerable amounts of fat and salt," explains Nutritionist Frida Harju. Instead of the classic gravy recipe, go with a stock-based option and avoid thickening agents all together.

Creamy Soups

We like to think of soup as the dish that helps us get better when we're sick. It's comfort food that's hearty, delicious and full of nutrition, right? Not always. "Cream based soups tend to use a large quantity of cream in the recipe, making them a high calorie meal option," says Harju. On top of that, gluten-free folks should be aware that many canned soups and restaurant recipes include flour as a thickening agent, adding even more unnecessary calories and processed materials to your meal.

Stick with a broth-based soup or blend up some roasted veggies for a healthy option with a rich and creamy texture. This roasted butternut squash and sweet potato soup is rich and flavorful, while also free of both cream and flour. Whip this up, and you'll also have your sweet potato or yam dish covered.


If it has fruit, it's got to be a healthy option. Ok, it's at least got to be healthier than other sweets and treats around the table. Unfortunately, a cake is still a cake. According to Harju, "Fruitcake tends to have high butter, sugar and syrup content, making it high in both fat and calories." Instead of all the butter and sugar, opt for simple fresh fruit or make healthy ingredient swaps, such as Greek yogurt instead of butter.

Your plan of action

We know every holiday table has its traditions, but with a few of the healthy swaps listed above, you'll be able to enjoy those traditions in a healthier way. We promise it will be just as delicious. The only question that remains? Now that weight loss isn't necessary in the New Year, what will your resolution be?