Love Dessert? 7 Guilt-Free Holiday Options

Remember when you could eat ice-cream cake and entire packages of Oreos with abandon? You were, what, eight? Well, you're no longer a kid anymore (technically speaking), and know how bad a ton of junk food can make you feel. But now that the holidays have struck — with their nonstop party canapes, office-conference-table spreads, and group dinners — how are you going to manage all the temptation? Here’s tips on what to grab, what to skip, and how to make healthier DIY variations that aren’t a nutritional wash.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Cookies and Brownies

“It’s usually the butter that's the main calorie culprit (or worse, hydrogenated oils, a.k.a. trans fats), but even just soy, corn, or canola oils that might be genetically modified, too, aren’t going to be healthy for you,” says Sarma Melngailis, founder of NYC's Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck. But, of course, the white flour that’s typically used is to blame, too. “Pure virgin coconut oil is, by contrast, a very healthy oil, and while it still contains calories and fat, it’s digested differently than typical oils and has been touted by some as a product that speeds up your metabolism,” says Melngailis. “Also, there are now a lot of great alternatives to white flour on the market, including quinoa flour, chickpea flour, raw oat flour, and more, which are far better for you than refined white flour.”

And, it's pretty intuitive to realize that when it comes to baked goods, bigger is not always better. “The best thing you can do when it comes to baked goods, if baking yourself, is to make them in mini-sizes, so right off the bat you can save around half the calories,” says Keri Gans, RD, founder of Keri Gans Nutrition in NYC and author of The Small Change Diet. Next, swap out sugar and other processed and calorie-dense sweeteners for small amounts of yogurt, applesauce, or egg whites. “These give the same texture with less fat,” says Gans. Also, there are ways to punch up the nutritional power of those baked goods. “One-hundred percent whole-wheat flour adds some extra fiber, while nuts provide some healthy fats,” says Gans. And, if all else fails, opt for biscotti over the plate of chocolate-chip cookies. “Biscotti typically has far fewer calories,” she says.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Pudding, Mousse, and Other Decadent Creams

Since these typically call for a boatload of dairy-like milk or heavy cream, it’s pretty obvious why they’re a calorie and fat suck. The good news: They don’t have to be. “At One Lucky Duck, we have puddings that are made almost entirely from the soft meat from young Thai coconuts,” says Melngailis. It's one of the healthiest foods around. If you can find the coconut meat, it's not hard to make.” Another surprising swap: avocado. Which adds the creamy texture, but gives your pudding a nutrition boost.

And, if you are going to use classic dairy, always replace whole for skim and leave the whipped cream off, too. “That automatically slashes calories and fat,” says Gans. If you love that little extra creaminess though, use a little low-fat Greek yogurt instead of real or fake whipped cream.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Candy, Plain and Simple

And, again. It’s the darn sugar. “Too much sugar doesn't make you feel good, and it doesn't do anything for you but add bad calories,” says Melngailis. Luckily, there are a ton of fruits that can satisfy your sweet tooth. “Personally, I find that dates are highly underrated,” says Melngailis. “They’re ridiculously delicious, and you can even slice them open and fill them with something creamy.” And, if you just need to have a sucker in your mouth, try more-natural maple candy verses the fake kinds. As for chocolate: Go for true dark kinds every time, and skip the milk-based versions loaded with more sugar (caramel, nugget, etc.). Try One Lucky Duck Chocolate Bars.

Gans says one of the biggest candy downfalls is not being able to stop. “If you can stop at one piece or two, tops, then by all means enjoy,” she says. “But, to get a nutritional boost from your candy, choose those pieces that come in dark chocolate with almonds, rich in antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats — good for your immune system and heart.”

And, skip the Starbursts for a few festive candy canes. “One six-inch candy cane is about 55 calories, which really isn't a lot. So, if you want to get into the holiday spirit, but still fit into your clothes, then sucking on one of these can totally work. And, if you are like most people, you won't even finish it,” she says.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Cake or Cupcakes

“The biggest calorie bomb in cake is almost always the frosting,” says Melngailis. But, who wants to eat cake or a cupcake without it? Nobody. “It’s easy to make a cake without frosting if you dust it with powdered sugar (not great, but a better alternative than thick buttercream or fake sugary frosting).” If you crave a little more on top, try a lemon glaze. She says that you get the idea of frosting without the same amount of sugar. Or, for the more adventurous, even a vanilla ‘cream’ from young coconut and organic cashews.

And, again, the best way to make these sweet treats healthier is to replace white flour with quinoa, chickpea, or raw-almond flour (same for cookies, too); when it comes to eggs and extra sugar — either replace these with Greek yogurt to simply cut back on calories and fat, or opt for applesauce if you’re vegan.

“For our cakes, which are either raw or vegan, we use mostly almond flour and some oat flour, which are both nutritious,” says Melngailis. (Try " rel="nofollow" target="_blank">One Lucky Duck Italian Almond Flour). But, note: Replacing standard frosting with a coconut and nut medley may not necessarily take calorie and fat count down much in terms of actual numbers. “But, you are getting more nutrition, at least over just pure processed sugar, so it’s about healthier options, too, not just low-fat,” says Melngailis, who shares a ton of these recipes and more in her book Raw Food Real World.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Fruit Pies (Apple, Pumpkin, Some Special Berry Combo — You Name It)

If pies had a theme song, like many desserts, it would be: "Pour Some Sugar on Me." “Again, the main calorie culprit is the added sugar and the butter in thick pie crust,” says Melngailis, who suggests making your own at home and using a light hand on the sugar. Plus, only using agave nectar or maple powder instead of the processed sugar that most recipes call for. And, instead of whipping up your grandma’s classic apple pie, Melngailis says try a fruit crisp. “It has far less calories because of much less crust, and you can get healthy with the toppings while keeping it delicious,” she says.

And, if you can’t deny yourself a slice, opt for pumpkin over the fruity kind. “It’s always one of the better picks because there is very little, if any, crust, which cuts back a lot on calories and fat,” says Gans. If you do love a berry cobbler, then truly have one sliver, she says. Another no brainer: A fruit plate is nowhere near the equivalent of a fruit pie. However, filling a bowl with fruit, though it's still full of natural sugar, is far healthier than pie. If you’re the hostess, Gans suggest dipping grapes in dark chocolate or plain yogurt and freezing them. “It’s a very sweet, yummy dessert without a whole lot of calories,” she says.
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
If You Love…Sweet Drinks (Virgin or Not)

The issue? Sugar (again!). “I love grapefruit juice, and as far as standard bar mixers go, it's the healthiest you can get,” says Melngailis. “The only problem with most places is nowadays, even grapefruit juice is a ‘grapefruit drink’ and contains sugar, as does bottled cranberry juice. But, at least these are better options than drinks made with sugary syrups.” And, even better bet? Mix fresh, unpasteurized juices and citrus with organic sake. “For fall, one of my favorites at my restaurant is fresh Concord grape juice with sake and a little lemon; we call it Purple Haze — it's full of antioxidants,” says Melngailis.

“With all the delicious desserts around this time of year, you might not want to waste your calories on sweet drinks like eggnog,” says Gans. “However, if you want to warm up with a mug of hot chocolate, then simply choose to make it with nonfat milk versus water, and get the added benefit of calcium and protein in your drink — just leave the whipped cream behind.” In the mood for hot apple cider? “As long as you stick with one cup (too many cups equals too many calories), it's a totally healthy choice that's rich in potassium and iron,” she says. “A hot toddy or apple cider with bourbon or rum can be a very delicious drink, but totally caloric. So, choose your weapon — cider or liquor. But, not both.”
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Photographed By Janelle Jones.
And, even though it’s cold outside, sometimes ice cream still hits the spot. Instead of setting up (or giving into) a full-blown sundae bar, have two scoops (use an actual ice-cream scooper, not a spoon, so you can’t over-serve!) Also, skip the hot fudge and sprinkles. Or, try vegan ice cream. Although it's typically made from a mix of soy milk, coconut milk, and cashews, and can still have a significant amount of fat, it will be less than than the classic kind. Plus, it's always dairy-free and less sweet, too.
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