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Creamy, sweet, high-fat foods have a way of creeping back into our diets during the holidays. It’s no wonder that the average American gains a few extra pounds over the holidays. A study published in a 2016 New England Journal of Medicine article, however, shows that the trend leads to even more weight gain after the holiday season.  Our advice: tighten up your apron strings to slash the extra calories during the holiday season. Here are some healthy holiday swaps from Ornish Kitchen to help you get a great start to the new year now.

Some healthy holiday swaps from Ornish Kitchen to help you get off to a great new year

Sour Cream

Healthy holiday swap: exchange 1 cup of sour cream for 1 cup of nondairy yogurt such as soy or almond yogurt, plus 3/4 teaspoon or more lemon juice.


Healthy holiday swap:
 Silken tofu is an excellent substitute for a creamy base when you need the consistency of pudding, custard, mousse or a creamy soup or dip. Mori Nu by Moringa is a superior choice due to its creaminess and mild flavor. Explore the Ornish Kitchen 3-day menu for a delicious sample of silken tofu used to make a decadent creamy vegan chocolate pudding.

Fudge Sauce or Cake Frosting

Healthy holiday swap: In this recipe for a decadent fudge sauce or frosting, the Medjool dates provide all the sweetness you need, with bonus fiber and antioxidants.

  • 2 cups Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Place the dates in the basin of a blender, or in a tall, narrow container if using an immersion blender. Pour boiling water over dates and let sit for 10-15 minutes or until dates are very soft. Blend water and dates on high until very, very smooth. Add in the cocoa, salt and vanilla and blend until well-mixed. Chill the frosting until completely cool (about 3 hours).

Butter or Oil for Baking

Healthy holiday swap: The fat needs to be replaced with moisture and a binding agent when you remove oil from baking. Puréeing fruits such as dates, prunes, bananas, pumpkin and apples can provide these qualities in most recipes. You can decrease or eliminate sugar when you use nutritionally packed fruit purées.

When taking out fat as a thickener or emulsifier, using starches helps make thick, rich and/or creamy sauce, salad dressing or dessert. A few that work as great thickeners are sweet rice flour, cornstarch (look for non-GMO brands), potato starch, arrowroot, tapioca, agar agar and kuzu root starch. Agar agar is a sea vegetable that can mimic gelatin, so it’s great for creating a jello-type dessert. Kuzu, a very healthy starch with medicinal components, comes in white chunks that you crush into a powder or dissolve into liquid. Other great thickening agents that substitute for oil, especially for salad dressings, are gums such as xanthan and guar gum, which are essential for gluten-free baking.


Healthy holiday swap:
 Stevia is a great natural way to sweeten your treats during the holidays. Stevia is a calorie-free herb sweetener that does not affect blood sugar levels. Conversion from sugar to stevia amounts may vary based on brand. However, a general rule is that 1 tsp sugar is equivalent to 1⁄16 – 1⁄8 tsp powdered stevia or 2-5 drops liquid stevia. See Ornish Living article, Five Reasons to Sweeten Your Health with Stevia to learn more about the benefits of this natural alternative to sugar.

Learn more about the benefits of choosing alternative sweeteners in this Ornish Living article Not All Sweeteners are Created Equal.

Black strap molasses and dates were ranked the top two sweeteners for antioxidant activity with 500-600 times more antioxidants than refined sugar. Dates are an excellent way to add decadent creamy sweetness to holiday treats such as these Chocolate Truffles, which can found on Day 1 of this 3-day sample menu.

White Flour

Healthy holiday swap:
 Whole grain flours such as wheat, spelt or oat can substitute for refined flour. Garbanzo flour is also a great high protein substitute. Because as much as 75% of phytonutrients are lost in the refining process, these whole grain choices provide a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For some great tips on making the switch to whole grain flours read Ornish Living article Holiday Baking Scoop on Flours.


Healthy holiday swap: Nutritional yeast flakes offer a delicious, nutty and cheesy flavor packed with important B vitamins, fiber and protein, but without any fat and cholesterol. Nutritional yeast flakes are a wonderful addition to mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, rice and pasta dishes, and casseroles.


Healthy holiday swaps:
Here are few easy, plant-based substitutes for eggs that eliminate almost 300 mg of cholesterol per egg.

  • Make a flax egg by mixing 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water. Allow it to thicken for about 5 minutes. Add to recipe.
  • Make a batch of this quick and easy egg substitute and keep it on hand in an airtight jar for holiday recipes.
  • Mix 1 cup potato flour with ¾ cup tapioca flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To substitute for one whole egg mix 1 ½ teaspoons of mix with 2 tablespoon of water or use just 1 tablespoon of water for just the yolk. Again, Bob’s Red Mill is a great choice for these ingredients.
  • Gums: Add up to 1 tablespoon of xanthan or guar gum to cupcakes, cakes, muffins or breads when eggs are omitted. Gum provides a thickening, gelling effect and creates a creamy texture.


Healthy holiday swap: Non-dairy buttermilk can add lightness and fluffiness to baked goods. Make your own by combining non-dairy milk with an acid. Mix 1 cup non-dairy milk (soy, almond, oat) with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Stir together then let it sit for up to 5-10 minutes. When the milk is curdled, it is ready to use.


Healthy holiday swap: Typically to create a creamy sauce, you begin with a roux of flour and butter. But you can also use a thickener like sweet rice flour and add water with the ratio of 1 tablespoon of starch to 2 tablespoons of water to make a thickened creamy sauce to which you can add flavorings.

You might want to print this articles and pin it to your kitchen cabinet so that you can easily swap in your healthy choices. Substituting takes some experimentation, but the satisfaction of knowing you’ve upped the nutritional value of the food without sacrificing flavor is worth it!

What healthy holiday substitute can you try out today?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

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