One of the most popular things about the holidays? The FOOD!!! However, most holiday food selections wouldn’t make a doctors “Healthiest Foods Ever” listing. That said, there are a number of foods that are not only delicious holiday delights, but are also surprisingly healthy.
Turkey is a dynamite healthy protein source — unless it’s deep fried and slathered with gravy. Sarah Krieger, RD, National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, points out that a serving of turkey provides almost half of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid and is a good source of vitamin B, zinc, and potassium. These nutrients have been found to keep blood cholesterol down, protect against cancer and heart disease, and boost the immune system (not bad for an old bird). A normal portion size is usually 3 to 4 ounces — and if you stick to white meat and peel the skin off, you’ll literally save hundreds of calories at a holday table. Fortunately, turkey is one of those dieter’s dream foods that will fill you up when you eat just a little.
2. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are among the healthiest vegetables around — so long as they don’t get doused with butter, marshmallows, or some other high-calorie holiday sabotage. If roasted — which keeps the flavor very intense without adding fat — sweet potatoes burst with fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and phytochemicals, which stave off aging, cancer, and arthritis. Plus, they’re very filling, so you don’t have to overload your plate with them.
As millions of us reach for ruby-red cranberry sauce, few realize we’re getting much more than a sweet-tasting side dish. Krieger points out that cranberries are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants and their fiber content helps to lower “bad” cholesterol levels.
Power to the pomegranate! This gorgeous fruit is proving its worth as one of the richest sources of antioxidants around, and it’s popping up more and more in holiday dishes. You can indulge in the pomegranate’s benefits by simply buying a bottle of its juice to add to your favorite recipe, or sprinkling the pretty seeds over a salad.
5. Collard Greens
Collards are ultra-healthy — except when sabotaged by greasy fat sources like pork, a popular additive in many holiday recipes. By preparing these leafy greens in a steamer, you’ll leave out the unnecessary calories and gain a ton of vitamins and antioxidants. If you just can’t give up flavoring your greens, use turkey bacon or saute the veggie in olive oil, suggests Krieger.
6. Nutmeg and Cinnamon
More and more research is being conducted on the health benefits of spices, says Krieger. Nutmeg, with its nutty, earthy flavor, and cinnamon, which shines with its sweetness, can do a whole lot more than garnish eggnog. Mixing these spices into fruit or vegetable sides can help you lower your cholesterol and maintain insulin levels in the blood.
7. Red Wine
While wine and cocktails can add needless calories to an already over-the-top meal, wine delivers heart-healthy properties in exchange for its calorie count (about 100 calories per 5-ounce serving). All wine is naturally heart-healthy, but red wines will provide the most antioxidant bang for your calorie buck.
And take note: the dryer the wine, the higher the concentration of those disease-fighting properties.
To keep your calorie count to a minimum, ask your host for a spritzer — half wine, half calorie-free seltzer water.