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Which is the smarter splurge -- a frosted holiday cookie or a piece of fudge?
By TODAY nutritionist and diet editor
TODAY
updated 12/9/2011 10:32:17 AM ET 2011-12-09T15:32:17

It's holiday season -- time for parties, cookies and lots of yummy cocktails. Watching our waistlines isn’t always the top priority. Still, there are smart ways to splurge. TODAY nutrition expert Joy Bauer shares some tips here.

And if you’re looking for diet inspiration after the New Year, check back with TODAY Health for lots more tips, support … and a special challenge!

1.  Holiday Mall Shopping

Cinnamon Bun – or – Giant Pretzel with Cheese Dip

You’re out at the mall taking care of your holiday shopping and hunger strikes. You wander down to the food court in search of a snack and whittle down your choices to the two most appealing options: a frosted cinnamon bun or a giant pretzel dunked in cheese dip (you’re cranky and stressed, and—face it—a fruit cup is not going to cut it). What’s the smarter splurge: the all-white, carbo-rific jumbo pretzel… or the sugary pastry?

The pretzel wins by a landslide. Even with that tub of gooey liquid cheese, it clocks in at 490 calories (skip the dip and it’s 340). Sure, it’s all white starch and fat and provides zero nutrition, but the pretzel is downright saintly compared to the cinnamon bun, which floods your system with 880 calories, close to a day’s worth of saturated fat, and nearly 15 teaspoons of pure sugar.

2.Comfort Food Breakfast

Doughnut – or – Bagel with Cream Cheese

If these are your only options at a breakfast meeting and you need to eat something, I say go for the doughnut. They’re probably going to cart me off to nutrition jail for picking a sugary donut as the “winner”… but hear me out. A regular white oversized bagel (made with junky refined flour) is the equivalent of 4 to 5 slices of white bread and can easily add up to over 550 calories when you factor in the thick layer of full-fat cream cheese.

Because it’s significantly smaller and less dense, a basic glazed doughnut will “only” cost you about 260 calories (a standard cake donut clocks in at 320). Both are full of refined carbs, so neither is going to make an energizing morning meal, but as long as this is just a once-in-a-while splurge, and you don’t pick a decadent doughnut pumped with custard or coated with frosting, I say spare yourself the calories and pick the donut.

3.  Seasonal Beverage Treats

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Peppermint Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream – or – Egg Nog

Even with a pillowy mountain of whipped cream and plentiful drizzle of chocolate syrup on top, the creamy, rich hot cocoa comes in around 270 calories for a 12-ounce serving made with whole milk. 

A smaller, 8-ounce pour of egg nog (made with a “triple threat” ingredient list of cream, whole milk, and egg yolks) will run you a shocking 350 to 450 cals per glass—plus clog your arteries with twice the amount of saturated fat. A true gut buster! Go for the hot chocolate—and if you can get it with skim milk instead of whole, you’ll shave at least 50 calories.

4. Holiday Starters

Spinach Artichoke Dip – or –  Baked Brie

The baked brie is a slightly lighter choice at 250 cals per ½ cup melty brie.

Though the spinach and artichoke dip seems virtuous enough with all the green veggies in the mix, you’ll swallow 300 calories in just a ½ cup of this creamy concoction, typically made with a combo of fattening ingredients like mayo, cream cheese, and parmesan.

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Really, both are high in calories and unhealthy saturated fat, so choose whichever festive spread you prefer, but keep portions small (a dab’ll do ya) and use veggies (celery, carrots, red peppers, etc) and/or fruit (apple or pear slices) as dunkers instead of crackers to trim unnecessary calories. It’s all about the dip anyway.

5.  Holiday Entrees

Ham –or – Prime Rib

The ham is WAY leaner and lower in calories. A 6-ounce portion of spiral-sliced, honey-baked ham is a pretty good bargain at 240 calories, but compare it to the prime rib and it’s the deal of the century!

A 6-ounce slab of a holiday rib roast can have up to 720 calories, 63 grams fat, and 27 grams of artergy-clogging saturated fat. That’s more sat fat than you should be eating in an entire day!  Prime rib is one of the fattiest cuts of meat around, so definitely make it a rare treat.

6.  Party Desserts #1

Apple Pie –or – Pound Cake

Pound cake gets its name because it’s traditionally made with one pound each of its four key components: butter, flour, sugar, and eggs. Given that uber-rich ingredients list, it’s no surprise that a typical slab (not the measly serving listed on packaged cakes) adds up to at least 500 calories.

A slice of apple pie will do less damage at around 400 calories, and the apples provide some nutrition and fiber, plus dilute the sugar and fat a bit. If you don’t eat the end crust, you can save yourself another 100 calories.

7.  Party Desserts #2

Piece of Fudge – or –  Frosted Christmas Cookie

Even a good-sized, liberally frosted sugar cookie is easier on your waistline than a measly piece of fudge, which easily goes down in a single bite, while the ultra-dense fudge (made with loads of sugar, corn syrup, butter and melted chocolate) unloads 220 cals in just a tiny (1.5-inch) square.

Plus, the fudge shocks your system with about twice as much sugar as the SUGAR cookies—about 10 teaspoons in one small morsel!

8.  New Year's Brunch Cocktails

Mimosa –or – Bloody Mary

Both of these brunch classics clock in around 125 calories (for a standard size), but the Bloody Mary (made with tomato juice and vodka) has less sugar than the mimosa (a combo of OJ and champagne). And because mimosas are sweeter and go down easier, you’re likely to drain your glass faster and wind up drinking more. Sipping on a Bloody Mary will slow you down so you’re more apt to stick with just one cocktail.

For more information on healthy eating, visit joybauer.com and follow Joy on Facebook and Twitter.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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