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Stay slim with these festive food swaps

In this season of overeating, making clever choices on the food front could not only keep you trim, but also help boost your health. Nutritionist Michelle Gelok delivers some smart festive food swaps festive food

Chocolate and strawberries
Image Credit: Getty Images
For the most health benefits, choose dark chocolate products that contain at least 70 per cent cocoa.

SWAP chips and dip FOR chips and salsa

This is an easy way to cut calories. Dip often contains high-calorie ingredients like mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese, whereas salsa is simply chopped tomatoes, onions and spices. Choose 2 tbsp of salsa over 2 tbsp of dip (like baba ganoush), and save more than 100 calories and 12g of fat. What's more, tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

SWAP breaded shrimp FOR cold shrimp with seafood sauce

Four breaded shrimp contain some 120 calories and 6g of fat, while the same amount of cold steamed shrimp with 1 tbsp of seafood sauce has just 35 calories and no saturated fat. And, what's more, the steamed version has 50 per cent less sodium than the breaded version.

SWAP soda FOR sparkling water with lemon

Sparkling water is calorie- and sugar-free, while soda is packed with refined sugar, empty calories and artificial colour. In fact, one can of soda has more than 150 calories and a whopping 8 tsp of added sugar. A simple slice of lemon can take a glass of sparkling water from bland to bursting with flavour; other fresh fruits work equally well: try fresh cranberries, cucumber slices or lime juice. 

SWAP mashed potatoes FOR sweet potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a staple at many holiday dinners, but sweet potatoes are best. One of the best sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, sweet potatoes - gram-for-gram - have a thousand times more beta-carotene than regular potatoes, and about twice the amount of fibre.

SWAP dark turkey meat with skin FOR light, skinless turkey

This simple food swap is an easy way to trim calories and saturated fat. A 120g serving of dark turkey meat, like a drumstick or thigh, with skin, has more than 250 calories and 4g of saturated fat. The same amount of skinless light turkey meat, like a breast or wing, is under 200 calories and has just 1g of saturated fat.

SWAP white rice FOR brown rice

Making the switch to brown rice is a must for anyone looking to eat more healthily. Brown rice contains many of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are removed from white rice when it's processed. Rich in fibre, one cup (250ml) of brown rice contains four times as much magnesium, five times as much niacin, and six times as much thiamine as white rice.

SWAP gravy FOR cranberry sauce

Though cranberry sauce is slightly higher in calories than gravy, those extra calories are packed with nutrition, making it an overall healthier choice. Cranberries are one of the best dietary sources of antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect against cancer and urinary tract infections in women. Cranberries are also a great source of vitamin C and potassium.

SWAP Caesar salad FOR garden salad with vinaigrette

Salad is usually a lighter option on the holiday menu, but it can actually be a source of hidden calories, fat and sodium. Caesar salad is often topped with grated cheese, croutons and a creamy dressing, and can easily contain 500 calories and 40g of fat per serving - that's more calories than a cheeseburger and fries. For a lighter, and much healthier option, opt for a garden salad lightly dressed with just vinegar and olive oil.

SWAP milk or white chocolate FOR dark chocolate

Compared to white and milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains the most cocoa, a potent source of flavonoids, natural compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties, all of which protect the heart. For the most health benefits, choose dark chocolate products that contain at least 70 per cent cocoa. 

SWAP pecan pie FOR pumpkin pie

On nutrients and calories, pumpkin beats pecan in the pie stakes. Pecan pie can have upwards of 460 calories and 19g of fat per slice, and with a dollop of cream, calories jump to 670 calories and 40g of fat. Though still decadent, pumpkin pie is a smarter choice with just 250 calories and 10g of fat. Also, pumpkin pie is loaded with beta-carotene, the same antioxidant found in sweet potatoes.  

SWAP ice cream FOR frozen yoghurt

Frozen yoghurt is made with lower fat milk than ice cream, and as a result, contains fewer calories and less fat. A half-cup (125ml) serving of vanilla ice cream contains around 150-250 calories and 8-18g of fat, whereas most brands of vanilla frozen yoghurt contain around 100 calories and 2g of fat. Boost the nutrient content of a bowl of frozen yoghurt by forgoing the chocolate syrup and instead topping your bowl with antioxidant-rich berries.

Michelle Gelok is a member of Dieticians of Canada and holds a BASc in Food and Nutrition from Ryerson University. She lives in Abu Dhabi.