8 High-Calorie Holiday Foods to Avoid

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

If you can't entirely avoid these high-calorie offenders, then limiting your portion size can help fend off weight gain.

  • Diverse group of young friends toasting at holiday or birthday party

    Along with holidays come holiday foods, many of which are loaded with fat, sugar and calories. You may be tempted to indulge, but eating just 200 extra calories per day can lead to an extra 2 to 3 pounds gained over the holiday season. To avoid this, learn which high-calorie holiday foods to avoid–or at least limit–along with some healthier options. Your waistline (and your overall health) will thank you for it.

  • 1
    Green Bean Casserole
    Green bean casserole

    Traditional green bean casserole is a rich and salty mix of cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, and fried onions. One serving (about 3/4 cup) contains about 148 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 431 milligrams of sodium, which makes it a holiday food to avoid. A healthier option: fresh green beans sautéed in olive oil or steamed, with mushrooms, garlic or onion added for extra flavor.

  • 2
    Mashed Potatoes With Giblet Gravy
    Gravy being poured onto mashed potatoes

    Nothing says "comfort food" like a cloud of mashed potatoes crowned with rich, savory gravy. However, a cup of potatoes mashed with milk and butter is about 238 calories, while gravy made with milk, flour and giblets is about 178 calories per half-cup. If you just can't have your turkey without mashed potatoes and gravy, try taking a half-portion, then eat it very slowly, since it takes 10 to 20 minutes for "full" signals to reach your brain. Other healthy alternatives: mashed cauliflower or a plain baked potato, if available.

  • 3
    Stuffing or Dressing
    Bowl of stuffing on a striped tablecloth

    Whatever you call it, this staple side dish is typically made with bread, making it high in carbs and calories. A half-cup serving contains about 175 calories, 22 grams of carbs, and a whopping 550 milligrams of sodium. (Experts say you shouldn't get more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium in an entire day). Double these numbers if you're a stuffing fan and likely to eat a full cup. To cut calories for this popular holiday food, consider replacing most of the bread with chopped veggies. You can also cook veggies such as celery and onion using chicken bouillon (5 calories per teaspoon) rather than butter (102 calories per tablespoon).

  • 4
    Sweet Potato Casserole
    Sweet Potato Casserole

    Sweet potatoes topped with gooey marshmallows are another common holiday food that unfortunately dings the high-calorie warning bell. A one-cup serving is almost 400 calories, plus 27 grams of sugar. But you don't need to give up sweet potatoes, which are naturally sweet (it's in the name, after all) and full of nutrients. Try baking fresh, sliced sweet potatoes with a little cinnamon and pinch of brown sugar or mixing with sliced apples for a less-calorific alternative.

  • 5
    Canned Cranberry Sauce
    Canned Cranberry Sauce

    Canned cranberry sauce is a colorful, sweet-tart complement to your holiday dinner, but can bring with it unwelcome calories and sugar. A half-cup serving of canned, jellied cranberry sauce has 220 calories and 48 grams of sugar. Try instead making your own relish by using fresh cranberries and a small amount of sugar or sugar substitute (such as stevia), along with vanilla, cinnamon or orange zest to add sweetness. A half-cup of fresh cranberries contains just 25 calories.

  • 6
    Dark Meat Turkey With Skin
    Grilled turkey leg

    So that turkey leg with the crisped-just-so skin is calling your name? Think twice about answering, since a four-ounce serving of dark meat turkey with skin has 309 calories and 16 grams of fat. Roast duck with skin is even worse: 335 calories in a 4-ounce serving, with about 32 fat grams. To avoid holiday weight gain, try turkey breast instead. A serving of white turkey meat, with no skin, contains about 160 calories and just 4 grams of fat.

  • 7
    Pecan Pie With Ice Cream
    Slice of pecan pie

    Pecan pie is one of the most high-calorie holiday desserts you can choose, especially a la mode. One serving contains 870 calories, 65 grams of fat, and 55 grams of sugar. Consider pumpkin pie instead, at only 323 calories per slice (assuming you leave off ice cream or whipped cream). Or, if you must indulge but still want to avoid holiday weight gain, find a pie buddy to split a slice with, or try slowly savoring just one bite. Otherwise, fresh fruit can provide a healthier, lower-calorie—but just as sweet—ending to your holiday meal.

  • 8
    Fresh eggnog with cinnamon and christmas decorations on dark background

    Eggnog made with whole milk, cream, sugar, eggs and brandy will cost you about 350 calories for a one-cup serving. Plus, you'll be taking in 21 grams of sugar. This is almost as much sugar as the recommended intake for women in one day (25 grams, per experts; men shouldn't have more than 36 grams). If your holiday isn't complete without the taste of eggnog, you can try either cutting your serving size or making a lighter version with skim milk and no alcohol.

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Turkey for the Holidays. University of Illinois Extension. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/turkey/nutrition.cfm

Popular Holiday Dishes. Calorie Control Council. https://caloriecontrol.org/popular-holiday-dishes/

Fresh Cranberries. Ocean Spray. https://www.oceanspray.com/Products/Fresh-Fruit/Fresh-Cranberries

Calorie King. https://www.calorieking.com

12 tips for holiday eating. Harvard Health Publishing.

12 Foods to Avoid During the Holidays. UnityPoint Health. https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=c200a129-bf91-4dd8-a4d8-ca846afcf90a

The 4 Worst Holiday Foods to Avoid (plus) Healthier Alternatives. Pediatric Center of Round Rock.

How much sugar is too much? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much

Get the Facts: Sodium and the Dietary Guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 4
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