Live Right Live Well: Diet
Healthy Treats for the Holidays
By Jessica Goldbogen Harlan for Live Right Live Well
If you've got a sweet tooth -- not to mention heartburn -- , chances are you anticipate the holidays with both excitement and dread. After all, even the most resolute intentions can crumble when you're faced with a whipped cream-topped wedge of pecan pie or your favorite holiday cookie. But “there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to enjoy outrageously delicious and decadent desserts this time of year," says Kathleen Daelemans, author of Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen (Houghton Mifflin) and a regular guest on NBC's “Today” show. "The problem is when portion control goes out the window."
Whether you're a guest at a party or making treats for your own dinner or event, you can make it easier to enjoy holiday treats with just a few simple ideas:
Choose recipes wisely Instead of picking a super-rich recipe and trying to lighten it with substitutions that could compromise the flavor and make it less satisfying, opt for stunning desserts that also happen to be low in fat and calories. Angel food cake is often fat-free, and you can drizzle it with raspberry syrup for a lovely presentation. Fruit crisps with seasonal fruit are often lower in fat than pies, which have butter-laden crusts.
Think small Take a cue from the spa cuisine restaurant chain Seasons 52, which serves rich and creamy desserts like red velvet cake and Boston cream pie layered in tiny shot glasses. Tiny portions allow you to savor rich ingredients without packing a huge caloric punch.
Make fruit the rule That's the advice of Sari Greaves, a registered dietitian at the Step Ahead Weight Loss Center, in Bedminster, N.J., and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. By piling your plate up with fruit plus a small indulgence, like a dollop of whipped cream, a mini scoop of premium vanilla ice cream or a petit four, you get all of the fiber and nutrients fruit has to offer and still satisfy your sweet tooth. Greaves also recommends baked or poached fruits, like apples and pears, or making fruit kebabs dusted lightly with powdered sugar. When it comes to fruit pies, she says, "Ditch the pie crust. It's probably high in fat, especially saturated fat from butter." Instead, bake the filling in individual custard cups or use fruit compote to top elegant meringue shells.
Be smart about substitutions Not every recipe or ingredient will lend itself to lower-fat substitutions. But in certain instances, you can use nonfat or 2 percent when a recipe calls for milk, or thick Greek-style yogurt in place of sour cream. "Just be sure to practice the recipe beforehand to make sure you're happy with the finished dish," suggests Daelemans. Greaves adds that in many baked desserts, you can simply cut the fat by up to half. For recipes that call for vegetable oil, use heart-healthy olive, canola or grapeseed oil. Finally, you can often get away with replacing one-third or one-half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar-free substitute, like Splenda, and use two egg whites or one quarter-cup egg substitute to replace each egg in a dish.
Plan ahead Who can resist a holiday buffet? You can, says Greaves, if you have a plan of attack. Start by checking out the entire buffet and deciding what goodies you want to sample. Then serve yourself small portions on a small dessert plate (a large plate might cause you to unwittingly serve yourself more). Avoid grazing, which can cause you to lose track of how much you've eaten.
Above all, says Greaves, "Enjoy your dessert, eat slowly and savor every bite." After all, the holidays come but once a year.
Jessica Goldbogen Harlan, contributing writer for Live Right Live Well, is an Atlanta-based writer and recipe developer specializing in nutrition and healthy eating. Jessica has written for numerous publications and Web sites including Pilates Style, H2O, Lime, Gaiam and iVillage.
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