Cocoa vs. Candy Canes: The Healthy Party Food Guide


A red mug of hot chocolate

You’ve probably already been to a holiday party or two, so you know selections can vary from delicious to deliciously dangerous. So how do you know what tasty treats to choose?

Choose: Olives Over Nuts

Like olive oil, olives are high in monounsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol. They’re also low in calories. Each olive has only about five calories and less than a gram of fat, while one pecan, for example, has almost 14 calories and nearly two grams of fat. And though you can toss back numerous nuts almost too easily, olives often require a little more work. And when you’re left with a plateful of pits, you’ll know exactly how many you’ve put away.

One little note about nuts…they’re high in monounsaturated fats, and they’re a good source of fiber and arginine, an amino acid that helps keep blood vessels relaxed and open. So, maybe a small handful won’t hurt you.

Choose: Soft Cheese Over Hard Cheese

Brie is hardly a health food, but some soft cheeses (like Brie and goat) are slightly lower in calories than hard cheeses (like Cheddar and Gruyère). A one-ounce serving of Brie?about the amount you’d put on two crackers?contains 94 calories; one ounce of Gruyère has 117 calories. While all cheese is high in fat?most of it the artery-clogging, saturated kind?soft cheeses have a tiny bit less fat than hard (eight grams in an ounce of Brie, nine in an ounce of Cheddar)…though hard cheeses do tend to have slightly more calcium than the softer varieties.

Choose: Veggies & Dip Over Cheese & Crackers

A platter of nutrient-rich vegetables wins over a saturated fat-filled cheese board. But even here some offerings are better than others. “Favor colorful vegetables, like red peppers, carrots, and broccoli,” suggests Kristine Clark, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition at Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania. But remember that dips can contain higher fat sour cream or mayo, so use caution. But in general, filling your plate with a veggie mix guarantees that you’re eating a wide variety of vitamins and antioxidants.

Choose: Mini Quiches Over Pigs-In-A-Blanket

Both are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. But when
forced to choose the lesser of two evils, nutritionists agree that
quiche has more redeeming qualities?including some calcium from the
cheese, high-quality protein from the eggs, and perhaps some extra
nutrients from any vegetables that are mixed in. “The piggy option is a
highly processed meat packed with additives,” says registered dietitian
Mary Ryan, “and the ‘blanket’ is a refined carbohydrate often made with
trans fats.”

Choose: Roast Beef Over Ham

Roast beef is less processed, contains about half as much saturated
fat, and has three times as much iron. It’s also rich in B vitamins.
Both meats are great sources of protein, but the ham has almost three
times as much sodium.

Remember that the American Medical Association has linked too much
red-meat consumption with an increased risk of colon cancer. So eat

Choose: A Gingerbread Cookie Over A Sugar Cookie

Both are empty calorie options, but the average sugar cookie has
about twice as many calories as a gingerbread cookie, thanks to large
amounts of butter. “Anything that tastes buttery and has that nice,
delicate texture is going to be really high in calories,” says Ryan.
Sugar cookies are also twice as high in saturated fat.

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Choose: Cocoa Over Eggnog

Eggnog and cocoa that are both made with real milk both have lots of calcium, about 300 milligrams in eight ounces. But eggnog, as the name implies, also contains eggs and sometimes heavy cream and brandy, which translates into about 300 calories and 12 grams of fat in a five-ounce serving. “Cocoa, even when it’s made with whole milk, has only half the calories of eggnog,” says registered dietitian Kristine Clark. Cocoa also contains potent antioxidants called flavonoids that help prevent arteries from clogging and keep blood platelets from sticking together.