December 17, 2023

Eight easy food swaps to make this Christmas a whole lot healthier (but just as delicious)


Tips & adviceDietitian’s guide

We get it – you want to indulge in a few treats this festive season. Here are some clever ways to eat and be merry while avoiding a truckload of fat and calories.

Susie Burrell

December 18, 2023

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Yes, it’s the season to eat and be merry and there is no reason not to indulge a little and enjoy the festive treats on offer, but it’s also easy to overconsume fat and calories at this time of year and end up a kilo or two heavier come January.

The good news is that while there are plenty of extra calories around, there are also plenty of lighter options that can easily be swapped for heavier fare, with all the taste and flavour but minus a truckload of fat and calories.

Load up your festive platter with goat’s cheese.iStock

Brie for goat’s cheese

Who does not love a cheese plate at this time of year, and while many of us can think of nothing better than a rich, creamy cheese, with upwards of 35 per cent fat it is easy to overconsume if you sample a few different cheeses on a cheese plate. A simple swap to a lighter goat’s cheese with half the fat content of your cheese, while spreading softer cheese thinly, will help keep your portions under control. Even better, thinly sliced parmesan or jarlsberg will still give you all the flavour of a rich cheese, with a fraction of the calories of a wedge of brie or camembert.


Crackers for vegetables

Despite the relatively high price of a humble cracker, the reality is that most crackers, with the exception of seeded options that we add to cheese boards and dip platters, have a base of refined white flour and vegetable oil, which means they are far from a good option nutritionally. Swapping to serving vegetable sticks with any platter will mean your overall calorie intake is slashed and will add much needed dietary fibre and a range of vitamins to your festive diet.

Adam Liaw’s prawn party.
William Meppem

Pastry for fresh food


Whether it is on a canape platter, or in a sweet treat, there is very little that is positive about pastry. High in fat and calories, it is easily overconsumed, and commercial varieties typically add processed trans fat to your diet courtesy of the margarine or shortening used to make them. Focusing on fresh canapes such as sashimi, shellfish or fresh rice paper rolls, and fruit-based treats will save you many calories this festive season while keeping your cardiovascular system a whole lot healthier.

Processed meat for fresh seafood

Processed meat, whether you opt for salami, prosciutto, chorizo or twiggy sticks, is not good for you, as it generally has 20-30 per cent fat, and compounds that are ultimately damaging to the digestive tract. So swapping this type of meat for fresh seafood such as prawns, salmon and oysters will not only improve your overall nutrient intake by offering good quality protein, good fats and essential nutrients such as zinc and iodine, but mean you will not be consuming the gut-damaging compounds found in processed meat.

Brined and glazed turkey breast.PHOTO: Rob Palmer; STYLING: Emma Knowles


Pork belly for turkey

With more than 50 per cent fat, and 500 calories in a single serve, there are much lighter yet delicious protein-based options you can fill your plate with than pork belly. Turkey is one of the leanest, protein-rich foods you can find, with 30 grams of protein and two grams of fat per serve, making it a food you can load up on for very few calories, while lean pork fillet, roast chicken breast meat or seafood are also much leaner, protein-based options.

Nuts for fresh stone fruit

Nuts are an extremely nutritious whole food, and ideally, we will include 30 grams, or 10 to 15 nuts, in our diets every day to get a range of essential nutrients including omega-3 fat, zinc, selenium and magnesium. What we need fewer of are handfuls of thickly coated chocolate nuts commonly served at this time of year. Swap your chocolate-coated treats to fresh cherries, and get all the fibre and antioxidants of beautiful Aussie stone fruit for no fat and a quarter of the calories.

Karen Martini’s gingerbread Christmas cookies.
Marcel Aucar


Mince pies for gingerbread

Any food that has a pastry base offers a hearty dose of saturated fat, and the mix of pastry and sugary fruit in a mince pie makes it a high-fat, high-calorie Christmas treat. Gingerbread on the other hand, while still sweet, offers far less fat and calories and means you have something yummy to enjoy with your tea or coffee.

Pudding for pavlova

While Christmas cake or pudding is not overly high in fat, the heavy fruit load does increase the sugar content. Serving your Christmas pudding with high-fat brandy custard and cream bumps up the calories even more. Pavlova, on the other hand, is a lot lighter, especially when it is served deconstructed with a little meringue, loads of fruit and yoghurt or ice-cream instead of dollops of full-fat cream.


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