Ahh, the unforgettable tastes and aromas of the holiday season. The juicy slices of fresh turkey and ham, the creamy mashed potatoes in a pool of savory gravy and the sweet and spicy scents of fresh baked pumpkin and pecan pies topped with vanilla ice cream. It’s a feast of flavors that summons up that warm and homey feeling and gets your taste buds jumping. Unfortunately, most holiday feasts are crazily calorie-dense meals that make it all too easy to pack on those inevitable holiday pounds–far from a boon to one’s health and wellness, right?
Actually, as it turns out, many of the traditional holiday foods we all know and love are packed with beneficial nutrients, so it may even be worth enjoying your turkey-day and Christmas favorites year round. Since it’s clear that these fantastic nutritional benefits are not so healthy when consumed with excess amounts of fat and sugar, I’ve compiled some tips for enjoying your favorite holiday foods in a way that’s healthy and satisfying for both your taste buds and your body.
Turkey: A very good source of protein, turkey is a low fat and lean meat that’s high in selenium, an essential mineral both for free radical defense and maintaining a healthy immune system. When you indulge your slice or slices this holiday season, be sure to stick with white meat for a lower fat portion.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Sliced organic turkey makes a great lunch and will keep your blood sugar stable for hours due to its high protein content. Serve it over salad or roll it up and enjoy it as a tasty afternoon snack.
Cranberries: High in antioxidants, cranberries are filled with vitamin C, but their true power is in their pro-anthocyanidin content, an antioxidant which has been shown to prevent plaque formation on teeth and protects cells from free radical damage. For some, regular cranberry juice consumption over months can kill the H. pylori bacteria, if present, helping to prevent ulcers and even stomach cancer.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Whip up a cranberry sauce side dish at home with organic apple juice concentrate instead of sugar and be generous with the lemon zest, which is packed with limonene, a compound which has been shown to contain anti-cancer properties. On a day-to day basis, use dry, fruit-juice sweetened cranberries sprinkled on your morning yogurt and add chopped walnuts for a calcium, antioxidant and omega-3 packed breakfast or snack.
Sweet potatoes: Packed with complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse. Besides being an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene (which is protective against the damaging effects of cigarette smoke), these sweeties are a very good source of vitamin C and the trace mineral manganese and are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Their natural sweetness makes it easy to leave off the butter and marshmallows typical of holiday meals; try serving up a baked sweet potato sprinkled with chromium-packed cinnamon (great help in regulating your blood sugar) and a dash of nutmeg (an excellent anti-inflammatory spice). GI bonus: adding these sweet spices will also help ease digestive upset and intestinal gas.
Winter Squash & Pumpkin: Remember the famous Great Pumpkin from Charlie Brown? It turns out the familiar gourd is quite worthy of its great name! Both pumpkin and squash are extremely good sources of carotenoids, essential for maintaining good eyesight and a healthy immune system, among other functions, and high in vitamin C. These guys are also filled with potassium and manganese and have plenty of magnesium, iron, folate and vitamin E. Their high fiber content can help curb your appetite – sprinkle on some clove powder (like in pumpkin pie!) and you’ll get some anti-inflammatory benefits in, as well.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Try roasting chunks of fresh pumpkin meat in the oven, sprinkled with olive oil, black pepper and other favorite spices for a filling and fat free holiday dish. Added weight loss bonus: eating pumpkin as a side dish will help you absorb less fat from your meals, too, aiding in weight loss.
Stuffing: Traditional stuffing, made with lots of sage, celery, carrots, and onions and served as a side dish is a tasty way to enjoy some excellent phyto-nutrition. Originating from the Latin word, salvia, meaning to be saved, sage is an herb quite deserving of its name, too. The leaves and stems of the sage plant contain antioxidant enzymes and studies have shown it to be an outstanding memory enhancer. As a group, carrots, celery and onions are packed with fiber and a variety of minerals and vitamins. If you tack on the added benefits of herbs like tarragon, parsley and paprika when added to your holiday stuffing, it’s clear you should not miss out on a serving of this healthy holiday dish.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Use a whole grain bread or wild rice as the base of your stuffing or throw in some extra celery, apples or water chestnuts in place of some of the bread for extra fiber and fewer calories. The herbs mentioned above are also delicious when served fresh over salads.
Pecans: When eaten in moderation (and not baked into a corn-syrupy pie, at least on a regular basis), pecans are a great potential addition to your wellness diet. These nuts contain more antioxidants than any other, according to a recent report published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. In addition, pecans have got lots of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber, and because they are rich in heart-healthy fat (oleic acid, the same type of fatty acid found in olive oil) it doesn’t take many for you to feel full.
Everyday ways to enjoy it: Crumble some pecans on your green salads, fruit salads or even cottage cheese, or just snack on a handful of toasted pecans and enjoy!
Roni Enten, M.Sc., CNS is a nutrition counselor who uses a holistic approach to her work with both children and adults. She specializes in nutritional and detoxification therapies for autism, ADHD and related disorders, as well as chronic disorders related to immune dysregulation, using therapeutic diets and nutrition-based protocols. Roni received her B.S.N. in Natural Health and Nutrition from Bastyr University, one of the world's leading academic centers for the naturopathy and natural health sciences, her M.Sc. in Nutrition Sciences from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) with the American College of Nutrition.
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