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Season of Lite: Healthy Eating Throughout the Holidays

UC San Diego Health nutritionists offer up lighter fare for holiday meals

By Melanie Peters   |   October 27, 2016

​The holidays are fast approaching, and according to a recent article in the New York Times, you started gaining weight four weeks ago, give or take a few days. Luckily, new research has debunked the often bandied about adage that Americans gain five to seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years — it’s really closer to 1.5 pounds, on average. Still, between office parties, get togethers and the several opportunities to feast on the calendar between now and the New Year, any opportunity to find a lighter alternative to our favorite - and often fat and calorie laden -holiday dishes are welcome.

holiday table

With this in mind, we asked three of our nutrition specialists for ideas to help add a touch of lightness to holiday meals that will still wow your guests without walloping their waistlines.

From Betty Garrity MPH, RDN, dietetic internship director

When we think of traditional holiday foods, cranberries are often at the top of the list. Their bright red color invokes a festive feeling. Fortunately, scientific evidence regarding the health benefits of fresh cranberries is abundant. The cranberry may help prevent urinary tract infections, is rich in antioxidants and contains phenolic acids for cardiovascular health.

Cranberry Salsa with Chevre (Recipe courtesy of Sheila Kealey):
This is a favorite holiday appetizer — the combination of flavors, colors and health containing compounds make it the perfect addition to any holiday gathering. Serve with whole grain crackers.

From Sayaji Glossner, RD, clinical dietitian

Hoisin Green Bean Salad (Recipe courtesy of The Daily Meal):
This lighter take on the traditional green bean casserole will save you time in the kitchen, as well as calories. Plus, green beans are a great source of fiber and vitamin A.

From Natalie Lu, RD, clinical dietitian

Curried Sweet Potato Puree (Recipe courtesy of Food Network):
Using almond milk as the base is a great alternative to dairy. This recipe also doesn't include the butter, sugar or marshmallows that you would typically find in a sweet potato casserole. Rather, the curry powder, ginger and lime create a unique and complex flavor profile without adding calories. Garnishing with toasted almonds at the end provides healthy unsaturated fats and a nice texture contrast.

To learn more about the featured medical specialties, please visit:

Nutrition Services and Dietetic Counseling