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Holiday baking: to swap or not to swap?

'Tis the season for holiday parties, cookie exchanges and a constant abundance of delicious treats to overindulge in. Many people find themselves turning to baking swaps—swapping out one ingredient with a perceived "healthier" ingredient—to cut down on excess calories. But does this really help?

I'm always hesitant to recommend baking swaps because although they can be a good tool to help you achieve your goals, this strategy will only work if you are truly realistic about what you're doing.

For starters, while swaps may improve the nutrient profile of the treat, it is still a treat. Replacing eggs with ground flax can make your baked goods a source of Omega-3 fats and fiber. The avocado you replace the butter or oil with will add monounsaturated fat. Applesauce can replace refined sugars with natural sugars. Those are just a few examples, but this does not mean the food is now "healthy," and, in fact, these swaps often have very little effect on the overall number of calories.

Plus let's be honest—we want our indulgences to actually taste like indulgences! Swaps are going to change the flavor and texture of your food. If those changes leave you unsatisfied or still craving the fat and sugar, you might find yourself heading back for seconds and thirds, entirely defeating the purpose.

It ultimately boils down to how you "justify" these holiday treats with yourself. If you're standing over the snack table thinking "those cookies were made with whole wheat flour so it's okay if I have one more" when you might have left the white-flour version alone, then baking swaps will probably not do you any good. But if you want to use your holiday baked goods to sneak in some otherwise absent nutrients, then you might be on the right track.

The bottom line, as always, is that the holidays are just that—holidays. Enjoy what you are eating, eat only until you are full—not stuffed—and get back into your normal healthy habits once the celebration is over. Stressing out over the possibility of overeating is often worse for you than the overeating itself!

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