Let's be honest--your diet probably wasn't going to stop you from indulging in delicious food and drinks this holiday season. And that's to be expected, but your waistline doesn't have to be an inevitable casualty of celebration. The truth is, it's possible to indulge chocolate, sugar, and alcohol without packing on pounds. But nutritionists agree the average person gets only 150 to 250 discretionary calories a day, so spend them wisely. Here are 10 snacks (some sweet, others savory) that won't break the calorie bank or make you feel like a Grinch in the morning.
Transform boring fresh fruit into a dessert so decadent you'll forget about its location on the food pyramid. All you need is a pear and gingersnaps. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, prefers Mi-Del gingersnaps because they boast a basic ingredient list that doesn't include corn syrup. "A cookie is a cookie is a cookie," she says, adding "I like simple ingredient lists, even if it is junk food."
Slice one seasonal pear, such as Bosc, and heat in the microwave. Top with two gingersnaps, crumbled.
Serving size: 1 medium pear with 2 cookies (13 g)
156 cal, 1.8 g fat (.1 g saturated fat), 58 mg sodium,36 g carbs, 5.5 g fiber, 1.4 g protein
Resist adding salt to this savory snack and enjoy a low-sodium, protein-rich treat that you can nosh on all afternoon. Pumpkin seeds are also high in potassium, a nutrient most people don't get enough of, says Elisa Zied, RD, CDN. "Potassium helps regulate fluid balance in the body and counter some effects of a high-sodium diet." Even better news: One ounce of seeds is equivalent to one-third of your daily recommended serving of meats/beans.
Serving size: 1 oz (about 85 seeds)
126 cal, 5.5 g fat, (1 g saturated fat), 5 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 5.3 g protein, 261 mg potassium
Biscotti is one indulgence that can be used as a vehicle to consume a nutritious beverage, like tea. "Green tea is the gold standard of something healthy," Blatner says. It's a sensible way to caffeinate, because it has about one-third the amount of caffeine as coffee. Beyond the immediate benefit of a pick-me-up, green tea contains EGCG, a compound that may help decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Serving size: 1 biscotti (.7 oz) with 8-oz. cup green tea
90 cal, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 40 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 protein, 5 mg cholesterol
Just follow the recipe on the back of the cereal box and add holiday cheer--in the form of colorful sprinkles or candy confetti--into the mixture. In a matter of minutes, you'll have a treat that's low in fat and high in popularity.
Serving size: 1 bar
100 cal, 2.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 105 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 1 g protein
Shun store-bought sugar cookies and whip up these nutritious treats, instead. Your guests will never guess that this high-fiber dessert contains whole grains and even a bit of protein. "Most people are only consuming one serving of whole grains a day, and we need three," Zied says.
Get the recipe.
Serving size: 1 cookie
85 cal, 1.2 g fat (.1 g saturated fat), 62 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 9 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein
Three cups of this savory snack is equal to 1 ounce serving of whole grains, and a dash of Parmesan makes it taste like an indulgence. "It doesn't have a lot of calories, but it has a lot of flavor and makes you feel like you're eating cheesy naughtiness," Blatner says. She suggests air-popping your kernels, which can be healthier, not to mention "inexpensive and awesome."
Serving size: 3 cups, popped with 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan
Air-popped: 100 cal, 1.4 g fat, .6 g saturated fat, 19 g carbs, 25 mg sodium, 3.5 g fiber, 3.6 g protein, 74 g potassium
Low-fat, salt-free microwave popcorn: 110 cal, 2 g fat, .3 g saturated fat, 20 g carbs, 25 mg sodium, 3.5 g fiber, 3.6 g protein, 72 g potassium
Satisfy a hankering for something sweet with Blatner's favorite guilt-free treat: homemade hot chocolate. "People think of comfort food being a mug of hot cocoa," she says. Heat up unsweetened chocolate almond milk and add 1 teaspoon of honey and dust with cinnamon, which can help stabilize your blood sugar.
Serving size: 8 oz milk with 1 teaspoon honey and cinammon
65 cal, 3.5 g fat, 180 mg sodium, 9 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein, 230 mg potassium
Whip up a batch of these treats and give them as the perfect hostess gift (but make extra to keep for yourself). Just melt 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler, and dip 30 dried apricots in chocolate (covering about half of each apricot). Sprinkle with 3 Tbsp finely-chopped pistachios and let set in fridge for about 15 minutes (they'll stay fresh in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks).
Serving size: 1 apricot
25 cal, 1 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 4 g carbs, 3 g sugar
Grab a nutcracker and enjoy a bowl of mixed nuts--shells not optional. Nuts are packed with nutrients such as omega-3s, protein, potassium, and unsaturated fats. They can also benefit your vision and overall brain health, Zied says. And because it takes some effort to shell them, you're less likely to eat as many.
Serving size: 1.1 oz
188 cal, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 5 g carbs, 2.6 g fiber
Save money on your morning cup o' joe and make your own coffee. Trade a plastic stirrer for a mini candy cane, and you'll get an instant jolt of minty, wintry goodness.
Serving size: 8 oz coffee with 1 mini candy cane
27 cal, 6 g carbs
Check out other ways to stay healthy and lose weight this season.