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10 Food Swaps for Healthier Holidays

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The holiday season is in full swing, so you’re probably enjoying your favorite holiday foods and are faced with all sorts of goodies at parties. A healthy eating pattern can still include reasonable portions of holiday favorites, especially if you can swap in some healthier ingredients.


Here are 10 cooking and baking swaps that can help land you on the “nice” list for smart holiday eating. You may have to experiment with the recipe a little to get the result you want. These tips cover more than just cutting back on sodium, as that’s just one part of the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations.

multicultural family at festive dinner table

  1. Sugar - in many cases you can simply use around one-third less without much difference in taste, but for bigger reductions try a low-calorie sugar substitute that is marketed for baking. Extracts like almond, vanilla, and peppermint can add additional flavor. Fruit purees like bananas, avocado, or pears also add sweetness and lend themselves well to certain baked goods. Try subbing them into recipes in equal parts for the sugar you’re replacing.
  2. Butter - cinnamon-flavored or plain applesauce can replace at least some of the butter in certain baked goods, as can mashed ripe bananas. To start, try replacing half of the butter in your recipe with an equal amount of applesauce or bananas. For cooking vegetables, olive or canola oil are better choices.
  3. Broth - low- or reduced-sodium versions of vegetable, chicken, and beef broth.
  4. Salt - herbs, spices, citrus juice, and flavored vinegars. Here are some delicious and creative uses for common herbs and spices.
  5. Whole milk or heavy cream - skim or 1 percent milk, or evaporated skim milk. Try it in baked goods and soups.
  6. White flour - whole-wheat all-purpose flour or whole-wheat pastry flour. To start, try swapping in whole-wheat flour for one-third to one-half of your recipe.
  7. Poultry injected with a salt solution - Unenhanced poultry. Check the fine print on the packaging and look for terms such as “broth”, “saline”, “salt water”, or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 mg or less per 4-ounce serving.
  8. Undrained canned vegetables - drained and rinsed canned vegetables. You can cut up to 40 percent of the sodium.
  9. Fried food - baked, steamed, roasted, sautéed, braised, grilled, or stewed food.
  10. High-calorie cocktails and punch drinks - mix 100% juice with club soda, sparkling water, or diet lemon-lime soda, and garnish with fresh fruit like cranberries or sliced citrus. This looks especially festive in a cocktail glass with a sprig of fresh rosemary or mint.

Have a favorite holiday food swap? Share it below!