Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry–and to remember that many of your holiday favorites can cause high cholesterol. In this story, we’ve ranked them by their saturated fat content, so you know which ones to enjoy–but limit. Why create such a naughty list? Because saturated fat is a type of fat that is solid at room temperature and is found in animal products such as meat and dairy products. There is evidence to suggest that consuming high amounts of saturated fat can increase the risk of certain health problems, such as heart disease and high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. This is because saturated fat can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood, which can contribute to the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Plaque build-up can narrow the arteries and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“I think most doctors would agree that, if Christmas dinner was experienced with any regularity, chances are slim that many of us would make it past middle age,” Dr. Michael Hirt, Board Certified in Nutrition from Harvard University and Board Certified in Internal Medicine, with The Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana California, tells us. “So, mind your stomach while being kind to your arteries.”
It is generally recommended to limit saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This means that if you need 2,000 calories per day, you should aim to consume no more than 200 calories from saturated fat, or about 22 grams of saturated fat.
Saturated Fat: 0.7 grams
Creamed spinach can be loaded with calories because of the heavy cream, sour cream, cream cheese and/or Parmesan cheese many recipes call for. Dr. Hirt tells us, “Few veggies are as well known for building strong, healthy bodies than spinach, but the cream is the cringe factor in this holiday classic.” If you enjoy creamed spinach, you can still include it as part of a healthy diet by being mindful of portion sizes and making sure to balance it with other nutritious foods. You can also try using healthier alternatives to cream, such as low-fat milk or plant-based milk, to reduce the fat and calorie content of the dish. Or cut the amount of butter in half. In addition, a dollop of reduced-fat cream cheese keeps this dish tasty.
Saturated Fat: 2.26 grams
While they don’t have heavy cream usually like other potato dishes, there is usually a ton of butter and cheese in scalloped potatoes, so grab a smaller spoonful and load up your plate with healthier options. Dr. Hirt says of scalloped potatoes: “These are the lesser of the traditional potato offerings because of the generous amounts of cholesterol-pumping cheese and butter that makes these such a crowd pleaser.” There are several ways you can make healthier scalloped potatoes:
Use a lower-fat milk: Instead of using whole milk or heavy cream, try using a lower-fat milk, such as 2% or skim milk. You can also try using a plant-based milk, such as almond milk or soy milk.
Use a lower-fat cheese: Choose a lower-fat cheese, such as part-skim mozzarella or low-fat cheddar, to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the dish. You can also try using a combination of different cheeses for added flavor.
Add vegetables: Incorporate additional vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, or mushrooms, into the dish to add flavor and nutrients.
Use a whole grain breadcrumb topping: Instead of using regular breadcrumbs, try using whole grain breadcrumbs for added fiber and nutrients. You can also try using rolled oats or crushed nuts as a topping.
Use a small amount of oil or butter: Instead of using a large amount of butter or oil, try using a small amount to reduce the fat content of the dish. You can also try using a lower-fat cooking spray or broth instead of oil or butter.
Saturated Fat: 2.6 grams
According to Dr. Hirt, “Potatoes themselves have no saturated fat, but it’s what you ‘mash’ into them (butter, cream, margarine) that can turn these into ‘terrible tubers.'” Mashed potatoes are a must at any holiday meal, so to make them a bit healthier, ditch the cream cheese or sour cream and use Greek yogurt instead. Also skip the heavy cream and use almond milk or a healthier milk option of your choice. Finally, many prefer to skin the potatoes, but by doing so you’re not getting any of the nutrients, so leave the skin on to maximize the health benefits of the potatoes.