Health & Wellness

How to make your holiday treats into guilt-free goodies

Holiday foods are meant to be shared and enjoyed. And nothing could be worse than the sense of guilt over food when it comes to our personal favorites. You can have even the most indulgent foods — guilt free —when you plan ahead.

Check out our “guilt-o-meter” rating for five holiday favorites, and learn how to go from a “5” (most guilt) to a “1” (least guilt) with ease.

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Which holiday treats are worth the guilt? (Hint: Avoid eggnog)

Play Video - 3:35

Which holiday treats are worth the guilt? (Hint: Avoid eggnog)

Play Video - 3:35

Peppermint Mocha Latte: Guilt-o-meter rating — 4

It’s time to stop thinking of these drinks as coffee. They are really a version of a hot milkshake. Made with whole milk, sugar and swirls of whipped cream in a large size, that’ll set you back around 470 calories, or about a quarter of your calorie intake for the whole day.

Lower the guilt-o-meter:

Downsize your serving of the “real thing.” While a small is “only” 12 ounces, that’s still a big drink.

You’ll automatically cut the calories, fat and sugar by 25 percent — to around 325 calories.

Order a 12-ounce size, opt for skim milk and a small swirl of whipped cream. You can customize your drink and cut your calories in half to about 235.

Choose a 16-ounce (large) “skinny latte’ made with skim milk and sugar-free syrup. It’s a creamy hot drink that satisfies. And ask for a swirl of whipped cream on top; you’ll still be at about 200 calories.

3 sugar cookies: Guilt-o-meter rating — 2

With cookie size expanding along with sugar decorations, three iced sugar cookies weigh in at nearly 400 calories. And it’s always hard to stop at just one.

Lower the guilt-o-meter:

Pre-plan your cookie choice, so it’s easier to choose just one, not when a “better one” comes along after you already ate one and you've added on around 130 calories.

If you’re the type of person who wants multiples, choose mini-cookies, at around 130 calories for 3.

Be a kid again, and bite the head off your favorite gingerbread man or snowman and give the rest away. That’s only about 40 calories.

Cheesy potato casserole: Guilt-o-meter rating — 3

As a side-dish, everyone loves potatoes. While a baseball-sized baked potato is around 100 calories and loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, it’s also a natural carrier for butter, cream and bacon.

Just one cup of creamy, cheesy potato casserole, like scalloped or au gratin potato recipes, has nearly 300 calories.

Lower the guilt-o-meter:

Choose your own serving size using a smaller spoon at a buffet, or share a side in a restaurant. You’ll cut the calories and fat in half or more.

Swap out a regular baking potato for the Yukon gold variety. Naturally butter-flavored, you can skip the added butter. Adding a tablespoon each of your favorite toppings adds up to only about 175 calories. And you get to eat the whole thing — two perfectly stuffed little halves.

Eggnog: Guilt-o-meter rating — 5

For creamy egg nog lovers, the holidays are prime time. But just a cup — without alcohol — has about 400 calories. Add two shots of bourbon or rum, for about 150 calories, and one serving is a whopping 550 calories. That’s about a quarter of your whole day’s calories.

Lower the guilt-o-meter:

Try a half cup of a “virgin” eggnog if you’re really after the creamy taste and bank your alcohol calories for later, with a club soda and vodka, or other low or no-calorie mixer. That’s about 200 calories.

Choose a half-cup serving of the “real thing”, including one shot (not two) of your choice.

The high sugar-fat content will keep you satisfied on that smaller serving size, and you’re balancing the alcohol for flavor and amount, with a moderate 275 calories for the whole drink.

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Sweet and savory cocktail party nibbles for your holiday get-together

Play Video - 5:25

Sweet and savory cocktail party nibbles for your holiday get-together

Play Video - 5:25

Tiramisu: Guilt-o-meter rating — 5

This indulgent dessert looks “light” in texture, but weighs in at about 500-600 calories for a 2 by 4 inch piece. Loaded with mascarpone cheese — a “triple-crème” cheese — sugar, and espresso-soaked lady fingers, it’s easy to see how these calories add up fast. With 34 grams of fat in the serving, that’s about half of your recommended fat intake for a whole day.

Lower the guilt-o-meter

The best option here is to use two forks, and share with another person, to enjoy a more moderate serving of around 250-300 calories. Because it is so rich, a half-serving will be very satisfying. Studies show the first bite or two of indulgent foods really are the best, and afterwards, we all eat out of habit.

Do the math and downsize further if you choose to add forks.

While most ingredient swaps don’t work here, one that really does is to replace the marscapone cheese — a super-fatted cheese — with regular cream cheese. That drops the calories by about 30 percent, to around 350 calories for the whole thing.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor.

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