What a Dietitian Serves for Holiday Dessert

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If you think dietitians don’t eat dessert, you couldn’t be more wrong. Speaking for myself, it’s my favorite part of a holiday meal! True, I don’t go wild and enjoy an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet every holiday. I do, however, enjoy my favorite treats every single year, and I won’t ever change that tradition. In fact, I would argue that it’s important for everyone to enjoy dessert (in moderation, of course).

Why It’s Important to Enjoy Dessert (if You Want It)

When it comes to holiday desserts, there’s so much more to it than a simple sweet treat at the end of a meal. Holidays, and especially the food we associate with them, are steeped in tradition. For example, my grandmother made the most delicious Italian desserts every single holiday, and there wasn’t a single year that went by when I didn’t thoroughly enjoy her cookies. I would have felt incredibly deprived and, to be quite honest, sincerely saddened if I hadn’t. It just wouldn’t have been the holidays without them!

And now that she is gone, I will make these same cookies exactly the way she did, to celebrate her every holiday season. For me, there’s no room for “healthifying” a recipe like this, which is so tied to memories and emotion. It has to be exactly as it always has been, and that means white flour, butter, and granulated sugar — and that’s okay! I won’t eat an entire platter of cookies, but I will savor every single bite of these edible memories. The holidays come around just once a year, so skipping your seasonal favorites won’t have the same impact on your overall health as skipping the sugar in your coffee every day, for instance.

In addition to enjoying holiday traditions, including the foods you crave in moderation is key to overall success in any healthy diet. That’s because you’re much less likely to stick with a healthy eating regimen that is so strict that it doesn’t allow you to have the foods you love without feeling bad about it. In addition, past research indicates that consuming these foods can help us feel more socially connected. Remember, there are no “good” or “bad” foods. Every food can (and should) fit into a healthy diet. These are my secrets to having and loving holiday desserts.

Have a Plan

I can’t say enough about planning ahead. Although you may want to save your calories for the big holiday feast, I encourage you to eat a well-balanced meal before attending a gathering. That way, you’ll get the nutrients you need and won’t show up so hungry that you overindulge.

When you arrive, survey the desserts and decide which ones to enjoy. The sheer variety of options can make choosing one or two really hard. In fact, research published in Circulation in August 2018 indicated that a variety of options directly encourages us to eat more. By sticking to just one or two desserts, you’ll be much less likely to overdo it than if you tried to sample a bit of each dish. Select your favorites, and if you have more than one, make each serving a little smaller.

Be Picky and Savor

There’s nothing wrong with high standards. I’m incredibly picky about what I’ll have for holiday desserts — only the best for me! Seriously though, I like to choose the foods I enjoy the most (think a piece of homemade pie) and skip the items that aren’t my favorite (sorry, grocery store cake). Because I get to enjoy these treats only once per year, I savor every delightful bite! In other words, instead of grabbing a handful of cookies, I have just one in a quiet moment when I can take my time and enjoy the flavor fully. This helps me to feel satisfied with less rather than mindlessly eating one cookie after another. Mayo Clinic is with me on this, recommending slowing down and savoring your food as a way to eat healthier during the holidays.

Eat Dessert First

Ever heard the adage, “Life’s short, eat dessert first”? It turns out there may be scientific evidence to support this advice. One small study conducted in 2019 and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when people ate indulgent foods like desserts first, they tended to unconsciously compensate by choosing lower-calorie items afterward, and ate fewer calories overall. Obviously, this is not conclusive evidence, but it could be worth a try!

Make Simple Swaps

Let’s face it, the holiday season can present an overwhelming number of chances to eat. From office parties to gatherings with friends and every side of the family, there can be a lot of opportunities to overindulge. While I’m not giving up my favorites at my main holiday celebration, if I’m going to a holiday soiree at a friend’s house, I always volunteer to bring a healthy dessert. Just a few simple swaps can make a big difference, and this way I know I can enjoy dessert every single time even if I have lots of social obligations. I love fruit salad, and that is generally my go-to potluck offering. Otherwise, I’ll make a simple Bundt cake in which I substitute applesauce and Greek yogurt for butter and oil.

So, what does a dietitian serve for holiday dessert? Whatever he or she loves best! For this dietitian, it’s things that bring back memories of years gone by — homemade apple pie, Italian cookies, and pizzelle cookies. Looking for a healthier version of a holiday favorite? Try my Cinnamon Bun-Inspired Apple Bread Pudding this holiday season. Happy holidays, everyone — I hope yours are extra sweet!

This content was originally published here.

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