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How to lighten up your favorite holiday treats

How to lighten up your favorite holiday treats

Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer


Gingerbread is a treat associated with the holidays, but maybe you'd be satisfied with gingersnaps like these, which are lighter in calories and fat.

Packages and stockings aren't the only things that are stuffed during the holidays. Our favorite treats of the season often are packed with fat and calories.

Give them up? To suggest that would be Scrooge-like.

Instead, why not explore lighter-in-fat or fewer-in-calories recipes, says Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

"Just because something is healthier doesn't mean it won't taste delicious," she says.

In fact, a number of cooks and dietitians we talked to had simple suggestions for making holiday treats that won't leave you feeling as guilty as a kid hunting in the closet for hidden gifts.

Maxine Smith Registered dietitian in preventive medicine, Cleveland Clinic

First off, Smith suggests lightening up on other meals to make caloric room for the inevitable holiday treats.

When it comes to eggnog, consider making your own, she says. Use 1 percent or skim milk, because a cup of regular eggnog can contain two or three times the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat.

Using reduced-fat milk will make for a thinner beverage, but adding some vanilla instant pudding mix (sugar-free, if you'd like) will thicken it, Smith says.

"You can take something that had 30 grams of saturated fat per serving to something with 0 grams of saturated fat," she says.

For holiday baking, Smith prefers whole-grain flour or, even more so, oat-bran flour ("it's less grainy-tasting") as a replacement for some of the all-purpose flour.

"You get manganese and selenium from whole-grain flours, which are heart healthy and have anti-cancer benefits," she says.

Finally, she tells weight-conscious patients to weigh themselves twice a week, "just to have a reality check."

Bev Shaffer Cookbook author and chef at Mustard Seed Market & Cafe in Solon

If you love the flavor and aroma of ginger, try a gingersnap cookie instead of grabbing a big hunk of gingerbread. Cookies are lower in fat, and it's easier to control portion size.

Shaffer adapted a ginger cookie recipe from "James Beard's American Cookery" (Little Brown & Co., 2010) to make it a little more healthful. She chose molasses as a sweetener instead of dark corn syrup and butter instead of lard. She also substituted half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour.

"Another thing I do often is replace butter with light olive oil," which is a monounsaturated fat, says Shaffer, although light refers to the flavor, not calories, which are the same as regular olive oil.

"It's perfect for baking. Light or extra-light olive oil is available in almost every supermarket, gives cakes and cookies a light texture, and it's easy to substitute," she says.

For every cup of butter or margarine in a recipe, use ¾ cup of light olive oil instead, she suggests.

She also recommends substituting one whole egg with a ¼ cup fat-free, cholesterol-free egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters, or two egg whites. That saves both fat and calories.

Lisa Cimperman Registered dietitian, University Hospitals

Cimperman says it's worth trying to lighten up the treats you like -- and easy to do so. Just swap out higher-fat choices for lower-fat substitutes.

Her rule of thumb for baked treats: Replace half the fat in a recipe with a fat substitute -- such as mashed bananas, pureed pumpkin or applesauce.

If you are making something such as eggnog, a healthier version would use all, or mostly, nonfat milk instead of whole milk. Egg whites or an egg substitute can stand in for whole eggs, and you can replace the fat from the egg yolks with a bit of "healthy" oil, such as canola or walnut oil, she says. Or you can thicken the liquid with nonfat powdered milk.

"Reducing fat is easier than reducing sugar in most recipes," Cimperman says.

But in the case of eggnog, you don't have to use all the sugar called for in a recipe. Make it sweet enough for your taste, add a touch more nutmeg and cinnamon, and you'll hardly notice the difference.

She also suggests serving eggnog warm instead of cold. "Warm beverages tend to make you more full," she says. "You have to sip them more slowly.

"It's not about deprivation, but about finding new favorites," she says.

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