The holiday season is a time when many of us indulge in our favorite treats. It’s also a time when many social activities revolve around food. We tend to eat out, go to parties, and drink more over the holidays. Alongside the faster pace and holiday stress, unhealthy holiday eating can leave you feeling less than your best as the year winds down.

The challenge is to find a balance between overindulgence and deprivation. But there’s good news! You can have fun this season without setting yourself back come January.

Healthy holiday food swaps

Sweet potatoes (just a little less sweet)

Yams and sweet potatoes can be healthy root vegetables in your diet. They have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes (limiting blood sugar spikes), and they are a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as fiber, beta-carotene, magnesium, and potassium.

But most holiday sweet potato recipes include loads of sugar, butter, and candied nuts or marshmallow toppings—negating some of those health benefits.

Instead of eating the typical sweet potato casserole, swap it for a roasted sweet potato dish. Roast with the skin on for fiber. Give it a holiday twist by sprinkling some cinnamon on top, or adding a little drizzle of pure maple syrup to sweeten the flavor. Add a splash of lemon for a pop of acid. 

Baking that’s better for you

If one of your favorite holiday traditions is all the baked goods, you can still treat yourself by swapping out some key ingredients for healthy alternatives. You and your guests probably won’t even notice any difference in flavor or texture. Some great options include:

  • Fruit purees, such as bananas or applesauce in place of butter and oils
  • Whole-wheat or gluten-free flour in place of all-purpose flour
  • Honey, stevia, or maple syrup in place of sugar in some recipes
  • Try substituting dark chocolate in recipes, especially if it’s 70% cacao or higher. Not only is there less added sugar, but you’ll also get more antioxidants and nutrients.

Say No Thanks to Nog

Eggnog is everywhere during Christmas season. It may taste great, but it’s not exactly good for you, especially since it’s high in saturated fat, which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

If you’re going to booze, stick with wine, spritzers, and spirits, all of which help you avoid “drinking your calories.” Or, if you still want some of that special seasonal feeling that comes with egg nog, spiked apple cider is a smart choice.

You’ll already be getting plenty of heavy cream and added sugars with baked holiday treats, so why not opt for the lighter cozy beverage?

Other healthy tips for the season

In addition to these healthy recipe swaps, there are a few other things you can do to maintain balance through a hectic holiday season:

  • Stay hydrated, especially if you are drinking more alcohol.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Practice “mindful eating” by savoring each bite, and stopping when you feel satisfied (rather than eating until you feel stuffed and uncomfortable).

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you have some extra treats. Give yourself a break and get back to your healthy routine as soon as you can.