While many trainers and nutritionists live by the old adage that you can eat “everything in moderation,” and they admittedly loosen up their strict diets during the last few weeks of the year, there are some foods they still won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.
Here, fitness and nutrition experts share the 11 foods they never eat, even during the holidays.
“As a fitness professional, I will usually bend on some unhealthy choices as long as the ingredients are actually real food—like egg yolks, cheese, pork or ham, candied yams, or vegetables with bread crumbs,” says Gino Caccavale, fitness expert and creator of the ReZist workout. “But I draw the line at two close relatives—fruitcakes and Panettone bread. These two cousins are commercially and artificially processed in a factory and contain an overabundance of sugar, cholesterol, and sodium. Along with the sticks of butter, giant scoops of sugar, and cups of corn syrup, the preservatives used to keep these shrink-wrapped heart attacks on the store shelves is off the charts!”
The takeaway: In times of indulgence, think about long-term effects of foods. Foods that are naturally fatty are easier to shake in the days after consuming them than artificially and chemically enhanced ones, he says.
Be aware of caffeine intake, as people tend to consume more of these during the holiday season, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Between holiday gatherings, work deadlines, travel, and lack of sleep, you might feel tempted to seek out canned energy drinks to get the power surge you’re looking for. But besides making you feel jittery, the extra calories and loss of sleep from these drinks can increase weight gain. “Get energy naturally from foods or in moderation with naturally caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea,” suggests Delbridge.
"While I won’t say you shouldn’t have any holiday cookies, the most dangerous part of the holiday treats takeover is indulging in singular large doses of calories or fatty foods by nonstop eating during that six-hour family party,” says Derek Stratton, C.P.T., BFX Studio expert and celebrity trainer in New York City. When you find yourself sampling each of the 12 kinds of cookies (or any other dessert) on Aunt Ethel’s cookie tray in one sitting, you’re setting yourself up for an overload of calories, fat, and sugar.
“Choose foods you’re more likely to have one helping of, or put a few favorite cookies on a plate and move away from the danger zone," Stratton says.
We're surrounded by tons of seasonal sweets everywhere we look—even your local coffee shop has taken the sugar up a notch by churning out baked goods coated in frosting with a holiday picture or sprinkles on them.
Put yourself on an "added-sugar budget" during the holiday season, and beware all those seasonally decorated sweets, suggests Michael Wood, C.S.C.S., chief fitness officer at Koko FitClub. Natural sugars found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains are fine, but added sugars wreak havoc on your body. Men should keep added sugar calories to about 150 calories a day (38g of sugar).
Don’t forget to factor in the calories you’re drinking, says Woods. For example, every 5-oz glass of wine you drink has about 1g of added sugar. Remember that most processed and packaged foods contain added sugars, so be sure to read labels carefully.
"I stay away from soda, and don't ever bring it into the house,” says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., fitness and nutrition expert, and author of Deadly Antioxidants. “While diet sodas aren’t much better than regular soda, the full-sugar variety should be thought of as a poison leading you closer to obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, and erectile dysfunction."
While you might think it’s better for you than butter, margarine contains trans fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, says David Zulberg, ACE-certified fitness specialist and author of The 5 Skinny Habits: How Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever. It also lowers HDL cholesterol levels—the ones you want to have in higher numbers.
So if you must use margarine, look for a brand that has the lowest calories, the least amount of saturated fat, and contains no trans fats, he says.
You’ve probably been dunking chips into these dips since preseason football started in August. But nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, author of Whole Body Reboot, recommends using caution around these heavy dips with mysterious ingredients. “No matter the amount of layers—three, five, or seven—I wouldn’t even dip a carrot stick in there!” he says.
More likely than not, those dips contain more fat than any other nutrient. Just one average bite can contain up to 150 calories, he says. You’re better off dunking veggies or pitas into hummus—or, if you can’t resist the chips, just eat them by themselves.
You probably knew these party-favorite mini dogs weren’t healthy—but hey, they’re so small, they can’t be that bad for you, right? Wrong.
“These puppies come fully loaded with saturated fat and calories, especially the sausages stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon,” says Villacorta. (Admittedly, the guy is a nutritionist and knows how to show restraint.) “Just one serving is enough to add stress to your arteries and help increase your LDL cholesterol levels. I would honestly never eat these any time of year.”
“Although they may make us feel we’re in the holiday spirit, I won’t order these drinks,” says Villacorta. A pumpkin-spiced latte made at a coffee shop can contain up to 600 calories per liquid treat. You might as well eat three regular slices of cheese pizza for that amount of calories. And with only 160mg of caffeine in a large specialty drink, you’re better off tossing some cinnamon into a regular latte if you’re looking for that caffeine perk with the holiday flair, he suggests.
“This is a side I've always skipped, due to the emphasis of using tons of high-fat ingredients and sugar,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. This creamy side often includes generous amounts of butter, a few eggs, about two cups of full-fat dairy like heavy whipping cream, refined flour, sometimes cheese, and enough granulated sugar to make it as sweet as a dessert.
About one cup of corn pudding often gets about half of its 350 calories from fat alone—piling 20-30g of fat into one serving.
“I try to stay away from this classic dessert due to the fat-to-calorie ratio, just like with the corn pudding,” says White. The classic cheesecake contains about 25g of fat and 20g of sugar per slice. At least with pies and cobblers you can enjoy some tasty and natural sugars from fruit that serve as antioxidants and provide a few grams of fiber, he says.