Weight gain over the holidays varies between individuals, but most people enter the new year at least one to two pounds heavier. This might not sound like much, but a couple of pounds every year adds up, and according to the New England Journal of Medicine, most people never lose it. So while you may look forward to those decadent holiday treats and eats, they could spell trauma for your waistline and arrest your metabolism.
Here are the eight most offensive foods of the season that should be avoided at all costs, according to Anne L’Heureux, R.D., Spartan SGX coach and elite Spartan racer. “I chose these foods because they have few nutritional benefits,” says L’Heureux, who also offers a healthier alternative to each villain so you can satisfy your cravings while saving your scale.
Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha
Grande (16 ounces) made with 2% milk and whipped cream = 510 calories, 18 g fat (12 saturated), 74 g carbs, 72 g sugar, 14 g protein
Seasonal drinks play on nostalgia, offering aromatic and flavorful infusions that give rise to happy memories of childhood. But do not bite the carrot: “These are basically a drinkable dessert, laden with sugary syrups and high amounts of saturated fat and cream,” says L’Heureux. “If you must have one of these beverages, purchase the smallest size possible and sip it as you stroll around the mall–to burn it off.”
1 cup = 343 calories, 19 g fat (11 saturated), 150 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbs, 21 g sugar, 10 g protein
One of the most traditional holiday beverages, eggnog is also one of the least healthy. “This is also like drinking a dessert, though with the added detriment of alcohol,” says L’Heureux. Your body sees alcohol as a toxin, and your liver stops all its other processes to eliminate it–including breaking down all that fat you’ve been eating for energy and instead storing it as subcutaneous fat. “Try making a healthier version by using homemade cashew cream seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves,” suggests L’Heureux.
½-inch slice dough (29 g): = 120 calories, 5 g fat (2 saturated), 18 g carbs, 10 g sugar, 1 g protein
One stripped-down sugar cookie—no icing, sprinkles, or other festive decorations—has as many calories as an entire baked sweet potato, without any of the vitamins, nutrients, or fiber. “Sugar cookies are high in processed ingredients like sugar and white flour,” says L’Heureux, adding that when eaten in excess, foods like these can contribute to inflammation, spikes in blood sugar (and crashes), and possible insulin resistance down the line. If you can’t live without one, choose a small cookie that looks the tastiest. “Then have a small portion,” she says. “No bite will ever taste as good as the first and the last, so a two-bite dessert should do it.”
1 slice (1.5 ounces) = 139 calories, 3.9 g fat (0.5 saturated), 26.5 g carbs, 12.8 g sugar, 1.2 g protein
Just because this dessert has the word “fruit” in it does not mean it’s healthy. “This fruit can barely pass as real and is often candied with sugar and syrup,” says L’Heureux. “Also, the processed flours and butter used for the cake provide no nutritional value and contribute to an increase in bad cholesterol.” Her advice: Choose a pie with real, recognizable fruit such as apple or pumpkin. “And only eat the filling,” she says. “You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth while skipping the unhealthy crust, which is usually made with butter or shortening, sugar, and flour.”
Candied Yams with Marshmallows
1 cup (8 ounces) = 480 calories, 36 g fat (8 saturated), 2,160 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 24 g sugar, 8 g protein
Take one healthy yam and murder it with brown sugar, butter, salt, and sugar and you get this traditional holiday staple. “Can you even taste the yams?” asks L’Heureux. She points out that your body will process the yams as carbohydrates as usual, breaking them down into glucose, but that it also has to deal with the additional sweet stuff in the recipe, causing your blood sugar to skyrocket. “The butter will create an extra insulin resistance barrier, making it harder for your body to return the blood sugar levels back to normal,” she adds.
Her solution: Cut a sweet potato in half lengthwise, brush it with olive oil, sprinkle it with cinnamon then bake it, cut-side down, at 425˚F for 40 minutes. “The olive oil and cinnamon will caramelize with the natural juices from the potato—without having to add any extra sugar,” she says.
1 biscuit (35g) = 128 calories, 6 g fat (1 saturated), 368 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 2 g protein
What is gravy without biscuits? Apparently, a whole lot healthier. These small side players are small and unassuming, but in actuality pack a huge calorie punch. Then add a little butter and you ratchet up another 36 calories and 4 grams of fat per pat. “Skip these altogether, or swap them out for whole wheat rolls without butter,” suggests L’Heureux. A whole wheat roll has 2 grams of fiber, as compared to zero fiber in the biscuits.
½ cup = 459 calories, 39 g fat, (11 saturated), 1 g carb, 24 g protein
While the turkey underneath is healthy and nutritious, a single half-cup serving of turkey skin has roughly the same amount of fat as a half a stick of butter. “Turkey skin is pure fat, which means elevated cholesterol,” says L’Heureux. No replacement suggestions here: “Just skip it,” she says.
½ cup mulled wine (3.5 ounces) = 106 calories, 0.26 g fat, 17.5 g carbs, 14 g sugar
According to scads of research, red wine boasts a lot of benefits, including powerful antioxidants and flavonoids like resveratrol and quercetin. But when it gets mulled—which calls for taking a bottle of “cheap” red wine (a.k.a. a hangover waiting to happen) and heating it with spices, sugar or honey, and brandy.
Result: Its naturally occurring 1 gram of sugar per half cup becomes 14 grams—as much as is found in 30 M&Ms. “Again, this beverage has no nutritional benefits,” reminds L’Heureux. “If you must have some, cut it with seltzer water, or opt for plain red wine instead.”
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