Simple tips to make holiday beverages healthier

Easy ingredient swaps to make your favorite holiday beverages healthier.

Although it has been unseasonably warm this December, holiday season still conjures up visions of blustery weather and warming up with a piping hot beverage by the fire. The top three holiday beverages are egg nog, hot chocolate and hot apple cider. While each person’s preference and recipe may be different, there’s one thing all these beverages typically have in common - lots of calories! Beverages are often overlooked when it comes to a healthy diet, but can contribute a significant amount of calories, fat and added sugar to your daily intake. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips to cut back on the unhealthy attributes of holiday beverages without missing out on these tasty treats.

Eggnog is a dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk and/or cream, sugar, whipped eggs and spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon. On average, one 8-ounce serving of egg nog contains 343 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat (56 percent of your daily allowance), and 21 grams (5 tsp.) of sugar. To burn off the calories of just one glass, you would have to walk briskly for 90 minutes. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make egg nog a little healthier. First, you can dilute the egg nog by only filling your glass half full with egg nog, and the other half with low-fat or skim milk. Secondly, cut out the alcohol. There are about 100 calories per 1 ounce of bourbon, which equates to about 26 minutes of walking. Finally, avoid added sugar by skipping the whipped cream on top. Each tablespoon of whipped cream contains about 52 calories or 14 minutes worth of walking.

Hot chocolate varies greatly depending on the manufacturer and whether it is made with water or milk, the calories in an 8-ounce serving range from about 80 to 200. Using an average of about 150 calories, that would equate to 40 minutes of brisk walking per cup. As with egg nog, one easy way to reduce calories and fat is by making your hot chocolate with low-fat or skim milk (or water). There are also many manufacturers that now make low or no-sugar versions that will help cut calories and added sugar. Also, avoid the toppings. While toppings of whipped cream or marshmallows are tasty, make them a special treat once in a while, and not a standard for every cup.

Apple cider is the healthiest of these holiday drinks, but it can also have some downfalls. Each 8-ounce serving has about 120 calories, again depending on the manufacturer. The main thing to watch out for in apple cider is sugar. On average, one serving has about 28 grams of sugar (7 tsp.). Read labels when you’re buying apple cider and try to get one with no added sugar. Better yet, make your own using cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg. Add whole cranberries for a twist and use a touch of maple syrup as a sweetener instead of white sugar.

Healthy eating and drinking over the holidays doesn’t mean you have to avoid all your favorite treats. These simple tricks will help keep excess calories to a minimum. For more information on healthy holiday eating, check out the American Heart Association Holiday Healthy Eating Guide.

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