7 Healthy Recipe Swaps for Your Holiday Favorites
What could be better than enjoying a delicious plate of your favorite holiday foods? How about those same dishes with added nutritional benefits?! When you swap out traditional recipe ingredients such as added sugars and heavy cream for nutritious alternatives, you can enjoy the same great taste with a healthier twist.
Here are the seven most popular healthy recipe swaps used by top nutrition experts—plus,why they work.
Swap #1: Sweeten with fruit over added sugar. Many holiday dishes are laden with added sugar, which can send blood glucose levels soaring and result in the dreaded sugar crash. To prevent this, you can reduce the need for added sugar, or replace it completely, by sweetening your dish with fruit.
“Fruits are my favorite swap for liquid sweeteners in dressings and sauces,” shares Cindy Chou, RDN, chef and registered dietitian at Healthy Feels, who suggests replacing maple syrup with chopped Medjool dates soaked in a sherry vinegar. “Along with being rich in antioxidants, Medjool dates are also a good source of fiber, with two dates providing approximately 3 grams of fiber to help support digestive health.”
You can also swap out added sugar in baked goods with pureed fruit such as prunes or bananas using a 1:1 ratio. This swap will provide all the sweet flavor while boosting the overall fiber content of the recipe with fewer total carbohydrates.
Swap #2: Use lemon juice in replacement of salt. Many festive dishes can call for large amounts of added salt to enhance flavor. However, too much dietary sodium can elevate blood pressure levels, a risk factor for heart disease. Instead, citrus flavors such as lemon can enhance the taste of a recipe without the need for additional sodium. “If a vegetable dish, roasted chicken, or soup tastes like it needs a bit more salt, try squeezing a little lemon juice over your cooked dish to enhance the flavor,” explains Chou. Not only does this swap help to reduce the overall sodium content of the recipe, but the addition of lemon can provide a boost of the powerful immune-supporting antioxidant vitamin C.
Swap #3: Choose aquafaba over marshmallow. Sweet potato casserole with the traditional marshmallow topping can taste delicious, but just ½ cup of marshmallow topping can pack in as much as 22 grams of sugar—about the same amount you would find in a 12 ounce can of soda!
Instead, try replacing this topping with whipped aquafaba, or the water chickpeas have been cooked in. “This delicious plant-based whipped topping browns perfectly, while reducing the overall sugar and calories of the recipe,” shares Rebecca Pytell, BScPH, of Strength and Sunshine.
Swap #4: Cut the heavy cream by using coconut oil. Dishes such as mashed potatoes and mushroom soup often call for large volumes of heavy cream. But with 54 grams of saturated fat per cup, just one serving can easily send you on your way of exceeding the daily recommended intake (about 22 grams per day or less for an average 2000 calorie a day diet). And that’s bad news, since high levels of saturated fat in the diet may increase the risk of elevated cholesterol and insulin resistance.
However, there is a solution. “Try replacing heavy cream and butter in dishes like mashed potatoes with a splash of coconut oil and a touch of high-quality olive oil for tons of flavor and creaminess instead,” shares Pytell.
Swap #5: Thicken sauces with chia seeds. With just ¼ cup of canned cranberry sauce containing as much as 24 grams of added sugar (about the amount of 5 teaspoons of sugar), even a small portion can add up quickly. Instead, thicken sauces, gravies, jellies, and jams with chia seeds over added sugars. “Adding chia seed to cranberry sauce is a great way to add a source of healthy fats, fiber, and several micronutrients while reducing sugar intake,” explains Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, of Bucket List Tummy.
Swap #6: Use a variety of potatoes. Potatoes are a staple in many holiday dishes. However, how they are prepared, along with the type of potatoes used, can make a difference in the nutrient content of the recipe. “Sweet potatoes have a natural sweetness, along with fiber and antioxidants, that can offer a healthier swap for canned yams or high sugar sweet potato casseroles,” explains Pytell.
Exploring less common potato varieties may offer benefits as well. “Swap half of Yukon Gold potatoes with purple potatoes to add color and antioxidants. Purple potatoes provide anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that gives them that deep color, which may help to prevent certain chronic diseases,” adds Chou.
Swap #7: Skip the cinnamon rolls for avocado. Holiday breakfasts can be filled with sugar-laden cinnamon rolls and treats that can spike blood sugar and insulin levels. This in turn can send your energy levels and appetite on a rollercoaster ride the remainder of the day.
As an alternative, choose a quick and easy breakfast filled with slow digested nutrients to help you feel your best. “I love starting the day with an easy sheet pan breakfast made with a mix of avocado, eggs, sweet potato, and kale. Avocados are a good source of fiber which adds bulk to the diet and can help you feel fuller faster and help manage weight,” explains culinary dietitian Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD.
Avocado can also be incorporated into a variety of holiday dishes by using them as a replacement for added butter in baked goods or as a way to thicken soups and sauces without the heavy cream.