I’ve spoken with so many nutritionists over the years, but there are probably just seven or eight I rely on for the real deal.
We’ve never been the kind of site to tell you to swap ‘Ranch dressing’ for fake Ranch dressing with less calories (if that’s what you’re after, you can easily find it). What we’re after — and want to share with you! — are smart, holistic ideas like Kristin Dahl’s. After all, that fake Ranch could have a worse effect on our health than the original and we need all the help we can get to steer us to alternatives that taste great and are made with real ingredients — maybe even ingredients with benefits.
This ginormous guide to healthy holiday swaps is pretty timeless, endlessly useful, and not for the faint of heart. Expect niche wellness ideas to be sure, but understand that they’ll probably be in wellness trend guides in 2024 (inserts wink emoji here). Here’s Kristin…
Eating consciously to support our health has never felt more important. With immunity on our minds, we want to make healthy choices as consistently as we can. Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that we have to throw our regular routines out the window. We can have our cake and eat it too (trust me, there are plenty of delicious + satisfying alternatives!).
Organic goat/sheep cheese & milk vs. cow milk/cheese
Benefits: Organic goat/sheep products are often less processed than non-organic dairy options, with a higher nutritional value and better digestibility as they come from a smaller animal. Goat and sheep milk are also better options for those with dairy sensitivities as there is less lactose, or milk sugar than there is in cow milk products.
The vegan option: Nut Cheeses
Benefits: Nut cheeses can be super versatile and amazing for digestion! They can also resemble the flavors of traditional cheese without the inflammatory side effects of dairy. Traditional cheeses, especially for those who are lactose intolerant, can exacerbate digestive issues. Nut cheeses are loaded with healthy proteins, fats, and fiber, plus, they’re incredibly delicious!
Veggie Plate + Hummus vs. Pigs in a blanket + Sausage rolls, etc
Benefits: Traditional meat-filled pastry appetizers often tend towards highly processed options that are filled with excess sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Crudités with hummus adds vitamins and minerals from the veggies paired with healthy fats, fiber, and protein from hummus.
Gluten-Free Crackers + Hemp Seed Pesto
Benefits: Gluten-free crackers are a simple swap for traditional crackers, and are full of healthy ingredients that won’t cause intestinal upset. Simple Mills is a wonderful brand with so many great options – their rosemary crackers are beyond delicious! Hemp seeds are amazing for lowering inflammation due to their balanced omega 3:6 ratio, with the bonus of protein, vitamin E, potassium, and iron. Combine the two and you have a delicious and healthy combination to improve digestion and overall health. This Pesto is lovely paired with crudités as well.
Benefits: These can be made in a variety of different ways to get that satisfying crunch we all love. Kale chips are an excellent source of vitamin K, which can help improve blood clotting abilities. Overall, kale is high in vitamins and minerals, with less processing, sodium, and preservatives than regular potato chips.
Homemade Seasoned Nuts
Benefits: Nuts are great for curbing appetite and are loaded with protein and fiber. Roasting nuts at home means you can season them to your liking, while store-bought versions generally contain high amounts of sodium, seed oils, and preservatives.
Organic + Grass-Fed Meat vs. Conventional Meat
Benefits: Organic and grass-fed meat contains no growth hormone or antibiotics, plus a lower fat ratio than conventional meat. Grass-fed animals have more omega 3 fatty acids because they consume more nutrients due to eating grass, their natural diet, versus grain and soy-based feed like conventionally fed animals, which causes non-organic options to have more omega 6 fatty acids.
Wild-Caught Fish Vs. Farmed Fish
Benefits: Wild-caught fish contains high amounts of vitamins and minerals, plus omega 3 fatty acids. Wild fish also tend to eat a natural diet of algae, krill, and smaller fish. This means that their diet is more varied, whereas farmed fish have a pretty consistent diet and are fed things that fish don’t (and shouldn’t) typically consume. This results in a lower nutrient profile. Farmed fish are also exposed to chlorine and other toxic tank cleaners and given antibiotics.
Vegan options: -Tempeh, lentils, legumes
Ideas: Baked Tempeh, Tempeh Salad, Dahl, Kitchari, Lentil soup, Bean Salad, Gluten-Free Tempeh Lasagna
Benefits: Tempeh, lentils, and legumes are not only high protein but are loaded with fiber and are excellent for digestive health. Vegan protein sources have one thing meat doesn’t: fiber! Fiber helps us feel full longer, regulates blood sugar, and moves food along the digestive tract to help keep us regular while eliminating toxins.
Gluten-Free Bread or Biscuits or Fresh Sourdough Bread
Benefits: Gluten-free bread is a great alternative to regular gluten-containing products, which trigger an inflammatory response in most people and can lead to digestive distress and food intolerance. If you choose to eat gluten and don’t have an issue with it, sourdough is the perfect option as it’s a fermented product. The fermentation process adds enzymes and prebiotics improving digestibility.
Celery root (celeriac) vs. mashed potatoes
Benefits: A major benefit to mashed celery root is its ability to help balance blood sugar levels. It’s a wonderful low-carb option that’s loaded with antioxidants and fiber and low on the Glycemic Index. Traditional, mashed potatoes contain less nutrients and are often loaded with conventional butter and sometimes sour cream, which can cause gas and bloating.
Sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, butternut squash, kabocha squash vs white potatoes
Benefits: Root veggies offer a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, making them an excellent addition to your holiday menu. They’re also loaded with fiber which helps to regulate blood sugar.
Fresh, Simple Greens & Herbs Salad
Benefits: Fresh greens offer an alkalizing and high-nutrient option to the dinner table plus some variety when it comes to texture. Adding fresh herbs, nuts and seeds plus pops of color with seasonal foods like pomegranate give salads a dynamic flavor profile and a boost of nutrition.
Simple Sauteed Greens such as Collards or Kale
Benefits: Greens are a powerhouse when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Sautéing them helps improve flavor and digestibility. A simple dash of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and sea salt, garlic, & voilà!
Homemade Cranberry Sauce vs. Canned
Benefits: Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants and immune-enhancing Vitamin C. Canned cranberry sauce often contains added sugars, preservatives and sits for a prolonged period of time in cans that may also contain BPS, a known hormone disruptor, and cancer-causing chemical.
Coconut palm sugar, maple syrup, raw honey, dates vs. sugar
Benefits: Natural sugars are full of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and Vitamin B, while some such as dates are even high in fiber. Using a variety of natural sweeteners this holiday will soothe your sweet tooth and keep inflammation at bay. White sugar is damaging to our overall health and vitality. Excess sugar often leads to a suppressed immune response when it comes to fighting off illness.
Gluten-free flour, almond meal, coconut flour, vs. gluten flour
Benefits: Gluten-free flours are a great swap when you want something lighter or are dealing with an allergy or food sensitivity. They offer more energy, reduce bloating, and are much easier to digest. Gluten can stress the GI tract, causing gas, bloating and leaky gut plus, an increase in systemic inflammation.
Organic/sustainable wine vs. regular wine/booze
Benefits: Organic wines often leave you with no hangover (as long as you’re hydrating properly) and less reactions linked with asthma and allergies as they contain no sulfites, additives or GMOs, all of which can trigger hangovers and allergies. Organic grapes are also higher in antioxidants and natural sulfur, so adding these preservatives is unnecessary. Frey Vineyard makes delicious, biodynamic, organic wines free of sulfites – one of my favorites.
Kombucha or Jun for an alcohol-free option
Benefits: These drinks are a great alcohol-free swap when you want something bubbly and fun. Kombucha and Jun are probiotic-rich foods that are made through the process of fermentation. Fermented products enhance “positive” gut bacteria, which can help promote healthy gut flora.
Ginger, Mint or Lemon Balm tea after dessert or post-meal to enhance digestion
Benefits: All of these herbs can help to support digestion by breaking down gas, reducing bloating and promoting healthy transit time. According to Ayurvedic science, the warmth of tea also helps promote Agni, the digestive fire, which needs to burn bright for proper digestion.
Himalayan salt, Maldon Salt vs. Iodized Salt
Benefits: Himalayan salt and Maldon salt are better alternatives than traditional iodized salt. Both offer a unique flavor and are rich in minerals. Iodized salt is heavily processed and stripped of minerals, plus often contains synthetic iodine and anticaking agents.
Seaweeds + Seaweed Salts
Benefits: Seaweeds are packed with vitamins and minerals and are loaded with iodine, which supports thyroid health. A fantastic salt alternative or flavor enhancement to any meal or snack. Daybreak seaweed co is a wonderful, women-run west coast company working hard to create sustainable seaweed and sea salts.
Grass-fed, organic butter & ghee vs. margarine
Benefits: Grass-fed butter is high in calcium and vitamin K2, which helps with the assimilation of vitamin D. Ghee is a lovely lactose-free alternative that’s considered liquid gold in ayurvedic medicine for its gut-healing and restorative properties. Margarine is often toted as a heart-healthy alternative, though it’s a highly processed and denatured fat, which increases inflammation.
Oils: Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, vs. Seed Oils, Canola Oil, etc
Benefits: Olive oil is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants and is a lovely addition to homemade dressings or drizzled over salads and lightly cooked foods, while coconut oil adds a light flavor to baked goods. In contrast, canola and seeds oils are highly processed, inflammatory, and often GMO.
Coconut or Cashew Cream vs. Condensed Cream/ Whipped Cream
Benefits: Coconut or cashew cream can be a great replacement for other more traditional whipped toppings. They’re dairy-free but still rich and creamy and a wonderful alternative to baked goods or as a side-topping.
Simple Homemade Dressings vs. store-bought
Benefits: Homemade dressings can be a fun way to explore new ingredients in the kitchen. Plus, they’re super easy to make! The possibilities are virtually endless, and the best part is, you decide what goes in them. Store-bought dressings often contain unnecessary additives such as sugar, inflammatory oils, and preservatives.
Try this simple honey balsamic vinaigrette :
*optional – 1 tbsp Raw Honey (liquified with a splash of warm water, if needed)
Pinch of Maldon or Sea Salt
Sage, Thyme, Rosemary
Benefits: These herbs contain a variety of antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties which help to enhance immune and digestive health. Plus they add delicious flavor to your cooking!
Try: Simple roasted root veggies – parsnips, sweet potatoes and yams + olive oil, herbs and Maldon salt. Chop and bake veggies for about 45 mins at 350 – rotating in between.
Benefits: Turmeric contains curcumin, an extremely effective antioxidant that helps combat free radical damage. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties – making it a wonderful addition to any meal or spice blend.
Ginger, fennel, dandelion
Benefits: These herbs can help alleviate a variety of stomach discomfort, such as gas, bloating, and nausea. Ginger is an amazing warming spice which boosts digestive Agni, and speeds up stomach emptying time. Fennel can help to soothe gas & bloat and dandelion helps to support healthy liver function and alleviate constipation. All beautiful options to have on hand after a hearty meal.
+ Quick tip : add bitters to water or chew a small piece of ginger before meals to enhance digestive function
Ferments – sauerkraut, kefir, organic grass-fed yogurts