As we head toward the diet-wrecking days of Thanksgiving and Christmas, many people have already resigned themselves to the fact that any efforts towards healthy eating will officially be shoved aside until January. It’s the same old vicious cycle: We binge for the holidays, feel remorse and make grand resolutions to lose weight after the new year, then we agonize about trying to exercise and get “swimsuit ready” fast enough for summer — only to start the whole pattern all over again once summer is over.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Just because the holidays are traditionally filled with delectable treats that will send your LDL cholesterol levels—the bad kind—through the roof, who says it has to stay that way? In that same way some savvy parents are finding new methods to sneak healthy fruits and veggies into their kids’ daily snacks, traditional holiday recipes can be altered in many different ways to allow for a more guilt-free, yet still satisfying experience.

It’s Okay to Have a High HDL Cholesterol Range

First, recognize what is and isn’t good for your body. This helps you understand how to create healthy recipes as stand-ins for your traditional holiday favorites. Most people understand that consuming too much sugar, salt, starch and fats is not healthy. Fats however, are a little different as there are good and bad versions. LDL fats—low density lipoproteins—are detrimental to your health. These proteins clog the arteries and increase a person’s risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. HDL fats, or high density lipoproteins, help to counteract the effect of LDL proteins by moving the LDL fats away from the arteries and towards the liver, where they are broken down and passed out of the body. Foods that increase your HDL cholesterol range include fish, nuts, fruits, whole grains, oatmeal, beans, yogurt, granola, orange juice, garlic, red wine, dark chocolate and green tea.

Sugars, Salt and Starch: Altered and Modified

As far as ingredients such as sugar, salt and starch—moderation is important. Many recipes can be made healthier by simply reducing the portion amounts when cooking. In addition, there are many sugar substitutes on the market and salt that are not only healthier, but can also add new and interesting elements of taste to old standby dishes. For those concerned about the chemicals in artificial sweeteners, natural sugar alternatives such as honey and stevia are becoming more popular and can be used in a wide variety of main dishes and desserts.

Get Off the Merry-Go-Round

Whether you tend toward holiday overindulgence or you simply want to be more consistent with your eating habits year-round, here are some healthy holiday recipes to help you kickstart your healthy—and delicious!—holiday meal plan:

  • Spiced Hot Chocolate: This recipe uses a small amount of sugar, light whipped cream and HDL-boosting unsalted butter to make a delicious Mexican twist on hot chocolate that’s sure to please both the kids and adults at any holiday party.
  • Eggplant Ricotta Bites: Lightly breaded eggplant slices (instead of starchy crackers) are sautéed, not deep-fried, making this a wonderful healthy holiday appetizer.
  • Slow-Cooker Braised Pork with Salsa: Served over quinoa and cooked with salsa, this holiday meat dish is rich, healthy and satisfying.
  • Cheddar and Scallion Cornbread: This traditional holiday staple adds a little extra flavor and has only 5 grams of total fat per serving.
Featured Photo Courtesy: James Palinsad