Secret ingredients that shave off hundreds of calories

Festive Moscow mules, mac and cheese and brownies can all be made healthier with just a few easy and delicious swaps. Copyright Shutterstock
By Amy Gorin, RDN with NBC News
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One ingredient swaps that will save you hundreds of calories (not to mention fat and sugar) this holiday season.

Tis the season for indulgent meals! Instead of going into the new year wishing you'd eaten healthier over the holidays, start now: Use these one-ingredient swaps to shave off hundreds of calories from your favorite holiday meals — without sacrificing any flavor.

1. Swap: Sugary cocktail mixers for Kombucha

Save: 100-plus calories per cocktail

The big benefits: "Swaps are about more than just saving calories," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN author of The Superfood Swap. She recommends trading a Moscow Mule mixer (with up to 6 teaspoons or more added sugar per serving) for a gingerade Kombucha, typically with no added sugar. "This swap also gives you gut-friendly probiotics to boost immunity and aid digestion," she says.

2. Swap: Butter for roasted garlic on bread

Save: 70-plus calories

The big benefits: When the breadbasket comes around, opt for the smallest end piece, not the largest middle piece. Then spread it with a teaspoon or two of roasted garlic, instead of the same amount of butter. (To make it, just cut the top off a head of garlic, drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top and pop it in a 400-degree oven for a half hour!) You'll cut calories and fat and add a lot more flavor.

3. Swap: Cream for pureed white beans in mashed potatoes

Save: 150 calories per ¾ cup serving

The big benefits: "We love replacing the cream in holiday recipes with pureed white beans," say Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, co-founders of 21-Day Body Reboot. "By getting rid of the cream base in mashed potatoes, you cut the calories. Plus, white beans, have antioxidants and filling fiber—and studies show that people who eat them tend to weigh less and have smaller waistlines."

4. Swap: Cream cheese for Greek yogurt in spinach dip

Save: 150-plus calories per ½-cup serving

The big benefits: Lower the calories in your favorite spinach dip recipe by swapping the cream cheese or sour cream for plain fat-free Greek yogurt. "You get more protein and some calcium — and save on calories and saturated fat," says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Chicago. Reduce calories even further by trading crackers and bread for sliced carrots, bell peppers and zucchini.

5. Swap: Sugar for spices in glazed ham

Save: 25-plus calories per serving

The big benefits: Rather than glazing your ham with a sugar-packed sauce, halve the sugar and add some low-calorie sweet spices like cinnamon.

6. Swap: Cheese sauce for pureed split peas in mac and cheese

Save: 100-plus calories per serving

The big benefits: Here's a mac-and-cheese swap you likely don't know about: Replace up to half the cheese sauce for pureed yellow split peas. In addition to lowering the calories, you'll take in more fiber, helping to keep you fuller for longer.

Image: Moscow Mule
A Moscow mule can have as much as 6 teaspoons of sugar per drink. Anna PustynnikovaShutterstock

7. Swap: Butter for avocado in brownies

Save: 150 to 180 calories per 2 Tablespoons

The big benefits: "Delicious in recipes like red velvet cupcakes, brownies or gingerbread muffins, use a one-to-one ratio of avocado to butter," advises Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition in Atlanta, Georgia. "That means that for every 2 tablespoons of butter swapped, you'll save 150 calories." Make the same swap for shortening, and you'll save 180 calories!

8. Swap: Butter for Greek yogurt in muffins

Save: 35-plus calories per muffin

The big benefits: Simply swap half the butter for low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt in your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe — or whip up a muffin recipe already featuring Greek yogurt and less butter. Then reduce the sugar by a quarter and add ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.

9. Swap: Syrup for a runny egg on a pancake stack

Save: 140 calories per pancake stack

The big benefits: Pancakes are a must for holiday breakfasts, but save some calories — and add filling protein to your meal — by topping your stack with a runny egg instead of a quarter cup of syrup.

10. Swap: Oil for vegetable broth in sautéed veggies

Save: 50-plus calories per serving

The big benefits: Even veggies can use a makeover: Skip the oil, instead sautéing veggies (think onions, mushrooms and more!) in low-sodium vegetable broth.


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