Weight gain over the holidays varies depending on what you eat and how lax you are. At a general level, most people enter the new year at least one to two pounds heavier. This might not sound like much, but a couple of pounds every year adds up, and according to The New England Journal of Medicine, most people never lose it. So while you may look forward to those decadent holiday treats and eats, they could be packing on fat, which will adversely affect your training and arrest your metabolism.
According to Anne L’Heureux, R.D., these eight holiday-favorite foods should be avoided at all costs for this very reason.
“I chose these foods because they have few nutritional benefits,” L’Heureux says.
But don't worry: She also offers a healthier alternative to each empty-calorie option, so you can satisfy your cravings while still crushing workouts.
What Are the Most Unhealthy Holiday Foods?
1. Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha
Medium (16 ounces) made with 2% milk and whipped cream = 510 calories, 18 grams of fat (12 saturated), 74 grams of carbs, 72 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein
Seasonal drinks play on nostalgia, offering aromatic and flavorful infusions that give rise to happy memories of childhood. But do not bite.
“These are basically a drinkable dessert, laden with sugary syrups and high amounts of saturated fat and cream,” L’Heureux says. “If you must have one of these beverages, purchase the smallest size possible and sip it as you stroll around the mall to burn it off.”
1 cup = 343 calories, 19 grams of fat (11 saturated), 150 milligrams of cholesterol, 34 grams of carbs, 21 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein
One of the most traditional holiday beverages, eggnog is also one of the least healthy.
“This is also like drinking a dessert, though with the added detriment of alcohol,” L’Heureux explains.
Your body sees alcohol as a toxin, and your liver stops all of its other processes to eliminate it, including breaking down all that fat you’ve been eating for energy and instead storing it as subcutaneous fat.
“Try making a healthier version by using homemade cashew cream seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves,” she suggests.
3. Sugar Cookies
½-inch slice of dough (29 grams): = 120 calories, 5 grams of fat (2 saturated), 18 grams of carbs, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein
One stripped-down sugar cookie — no icing, sprinkles, or other festive decorations — has as many calories as an entire baked sweet potato, without any of the vitamins, nutrients, or fiber.
“Sugar cookies are high in processed ingredients like sugar and white flour,” L’Heureux says.
When eaten in excess, foods like these can contribute to inflammation, spikes in blood sugar (and crashes), and possible insulin resistance down the line. If you can’t live without one, choose a small cookie that looks the tastiest.
“Then have a small portion,” she says. “No bite will ever taste as good as the first and the last, so a two-bite dessert should do it.”
1 slice (1.5 ounces) = 139 calories, 3.9 grams of fat (0.5 saturated), 26.5 grams of carbs, 12.8 grams of sugar, and 1.2 grams of protein
Just because this dessert has the word “fruit” in it does not mean it’s healthy.
“This fruit can barely pass as real and is often candied with sugar and syrup,” L’Heureux says. “Also, the processed flours and butter used for the cake provide no nutritional value and contribute to an increase in bad cholesterol.”
Her advice: Choose a pie with real, recognizable fruit such as apple or pumpkin.
“And only eat the filling,” she says. “You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth while skipping the unhealthy crust, which is usually made with butter or shortening, sugar, and flour.”
5. Candied Yams With Marshmallows
1 cup (8 ounces) = 480 calories, 36 grams of fat (8 saturated), 2,160 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbs, 24 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein
Take one healthy yam and murder it with brown sugar, butter, salt, and sugar and you get this traditional holiday staple.
“Can you even taste the yams?” L’Heureux asks.
She points out that your body will process the yams as carbohydrates as usual — breaking them down into glucose — but that it also has to deal with the additional sweet stuff in the recipe, causing your blood sugar to skyrocket.
Related: Are Sweet Potatoes Really Healthy?
“The butter will create an extra insulin resistance barrier, making it harder for your body to return the blood sugar levels back to normal,” she adds.
Her solution: Cut a sweet potato in half lengthwise, brush it with olive oil, and sprinkle it with cinnamon. Then, bake it cut-side down at 425˚ Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.
“The olive oil and cinnamon will caramelize with the natural juices from the potato without having to add any extra sugar,” she says.
6. Buttermilk Biscuits
1 biscuit (35 grams) = 128 calories, 6 grams of fat (1 saturated), 368 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbs, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein
What is gravy without biscuits? Apparently, a whole lot healthier. These side players are small and unassuming, but — in actuality — they pack a huge calorie punch. Then add a little butter and you ratchet up another 36 calories and 4 grams of fat.
“Skip these all together, or swap them out for whole wheat rolls without butter,” L’Heureux suggests.
A whole wheat roll has 2 grams of fiber, as compared to zero fiber in the biscuits.
7. Turkey Skin
½ cup = 459 calories, 39 grams of fat, (11 saturated), 1 grams of carbs, and 24 grams of protein
While the turkey underneath is healthy and nutritious, a single half-cup serving of turkey skin has roughly the same amount of fat as a half of a stick of butter.
“Turkey skin is pure fat, which means elevated cholesterol,” L’Heureux says.
No replacement suggestions here: “Just skip it,” she says.
8. Mulled Wine
½ cup of mulled wine (3.5 ounces) = 106 calories, 0.26 grams of fat, 17.5 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of sugar
According to scads of research, red wine boasts a lot of benefits, including powerful antioxidants and flavonoids such as resveratrol and quercetin. But when it gets mulled — which calls for taking a bottle of “cheap” red wine (a.k.a. a hangover waiting to happen) and heating it with spices, sugar or honey, and brandy — the naturally occurring 1 gram of sugar per half cup becomes 14 grams (as much as is found in 30 M&Ms).
“Again, this beverage has no nutritional benefits,” L’Heureux says. “If you must have some, cut it with seltzer water, or opt for plain red wine instead.”