No month feels quite as cheery as December. The mercury dips, there’s a chill in the air and Christmas is around the corner. And with it comes twinkling lights, giant mugs of hot chocolate, cocktail parties and, of course, lots and lots of food and desserts. For who can resist the delicate cakes, cookies and pies that come with this season?
However, looming large in the background is the spectre of the post-holiday weight gain, the subsequent diets and detoxes that will surely threaten to spoil your holiday cheer. Perhaps a compromise could be reached here that would keep both your holiday cheer intact and waistline intact. We want to help you out, so we’ve put together some healthier alternatives to your favourite Christmas dishes. It’s all the joy of flavour without the fat. Sounds too good to be true, we know, but happily enough, this is actually possible.
“The modus operandi is similar for Christmas cookies. Most cookies have a refined flour base. Instead, use whole wheat flour,” suggests nutritionist Shirin Kapadia. “Whole-wheat sugar cookies keep saturated fat and cholesterol low, while adding a punch of fiber. Also one can replace white sugar with dates syrup, which can be easily made at home. It’s a good idea to add nuts like walnuts and almonds, which are packed with good fats, as well as flaxseeds. These don’t have any specific taste, yet they add to the health quotient. Lastly, if you want chocolate flavour, then add unsweetened raw cacao available in the market, instead of the sweetened cocoa powder or chocolates which are loaded with sugar,” Shirin adds.
It sounds impossible to trim the Christmas cake without sacrificing a bit on the taste, but Dr Niti Desai, a nutritionist at Cumbala Hill Hospital in Mumbai assures us a decent alternative. “You can swap half of the refined flour or maida in the cake with half a portion of oats or half a portion of whole wheat flour,” she says. “Reduce the quantity of dry fruits and use brown sugar or honey instead of refined white sugar. That way, you’re good to go with a cake that tastes as good as a regular Christmas cake. And if you’re willing to compromise a bit more on flavour, you could use applesauce to drastically reduce your use of added sugar,” she adds.
This spicy slow-cooked pork dish is a staple in Christmas meals among Goan Christians, but it can also lead to some disastrous effects on your stomach post-meal since most people tend to overeat during holiday season anyway. Shiny Esther, a dietician at Qua Nutrition suggests a healthier version to your pork vindaloo meal. “Add a few veggies to your vindaloo,” she says, “and avoid using the lard in the pork as the fat in it is quite unhealthy. Just use regular cooking oil. The spices in the vindaloo can lead to bloating and gastric trouble in the stomach later. Drinking a glass of buttermilk post-meal would help mitigate these side-effects.”
This is a side-dish synonymous with the Sunday lunches and holiday seasons. Mounds and mounds of warm, buttery mashed potatoes – the perfect pairing to your roast. But they are also heavy on calories and fat. “Switching the butter in the mashed potatoes to skimmed milk would be a good option”, says Niti Desai, “There isn’t much compromise on taste there. Or else you could try jacket potatoes. Cauliflower mash is a very healthy alternative, but if you don’t like it so much, you could make a half-and-half mash of both cauliflower and potato.”
What’s a Christmas without a good roast? Both chicken and turkey are healthy lean meats, but the difference lies in how you cook the meat. “Remove the skin completely before popping the meat into the oven,” suggests Niti. “That way, you can skip the layer of fat underlining the skin. Also try leaner sauces, like cranberry sauce, on the side.”
This traditional Christmas drink is deliciously boozy, but it is also very heavy on the palate since it uses whole milk, heavy cream, sugar, bourbon and eggs. Shirin Kapadia gives us her healthy eggnog recipe. “It’s a good idea to use unsweetened almond milk (instead of cream or whole milk), bananas (instead of refined sugar), and spices (like cinnamon and nutmeg) for a flavourful yet healthy eggnog recipe which the whole family will love,” she says, “Even better, it also happens to save you over half the fat and calories compared to a traditional eggnog recipe.”
This popular snack, called Achappams in Kerala, is a must-have for South Indian Christians during Christmas. Named for the concentric rose-petal-like spiral shapes these cookies take on, rose cookies are made by pouring a batter of rice flour, eggs and sugar into achappam moulds and deep frying them. Shiny has a healthier alternative to this traditional favourite. “Use brown rice flour to make the batter,” she suggests, “You can even mix it up with millet flour or quinoa. And switch to palm sugar to sweeten your cookies. Use a healthy oil to deep fry and maintain optimum temperature so that the oil doesn’t overheat and lead to a breakdown of the fat.”
What’s holiday season without a good cocktail party? But since your booze tends to be heavy on calories anyway, it makes sense to go lighter on your cocktail snacks. Shirin suggests healthy low-calorie snacks like chickpea hummus with vegetable sticks or guacamole with crackers. Hummus is high in protein and guacamole, made from avocado, is a superfood rich in omega fatty acids, both of which increase the nutrient profile of your snack.
With that chill in the air, a mug of steaming hot chocolate is hard to pass up. But giving in to it is not an option. Instead there are ways to tweak your hot chocolate for a healthier sip each time. “Use skimmed milk to make the hot chocolate instead of full-fat milk,” Nita says, “Also switch to dark chocolate with low sugar. It may take some time to get used to the bitter aftertaste, but it’s all chocolate ultimately, and quite rich too.”
Like this article? Also read: Aamir Khan’s Personal Nutritionist Reveals The Dangal Diet
Cover Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com; Images Courtesy: Shutterstock.com, By Vikram Rajashekar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons