By Kristin Sidorov
The holidays usually arrive with their fair share of diet-damaging traditions, especially when it comes to food. Rich, high-calorie feasts are almost everywhere you turn, and it can be hard to stick to your health and diet goals without feeling like you have to give up the merry customs you love. This year, you don’t have to.
Believe it or not, most of your favorite holiday foods are actually chock full of health benefits. With a few tweaks here and there, your beloved holiday meal can be a healthy one, too. Moderation is key, as usual.
When not slathered in gravy, turkey is a super low-cal source of protein, with less than half the saturated fat of beef. It’s also a great source of selenium, which can help support the immune system, and contains niacin and vitamin B6, essential for energy metabolism and brain function. Stick to the white meat for a leaner cut.
These guys are packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C and beta carotene, which the body can convert into Vitamin A for immune health and bone growth. They’re also high in fiber, Vitamin B6, and potassium, which can help decrease blood pressure. Try these Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Sage (Munchin with Munchkin) for a delicious and healthy holiday side.
Don’t dig sweet potatoes? Try acorn squash, pumpkin, or winter squash—they all have tons of nutrients and are packed with beta carotene, too.
Green beans are low-cal and chock-full of nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, potassium, and folate. Their antioxidant properties have been shown to help prevent against cancer and heart disease, as well as promote bone health, immune system health, and healthy blood clotting. Spice up this classic holiday side with Roasted Parmesan Green Beans (Skinny Taste) or try Green Beans with Toasted Walnuts and Cranberries (The Sweet Life) to really get in the holiday spirit (and incorporate two of our other favorite healthy holiday foods—read on!)
Looking for another green veggie to add some zing to your holiday meal? Try broccoli, collard greens, or kale;all have tons of fiber, nutrients, and make a satisfyingly nutritious side. Spinach is a great option too—try it in this super easy Speedy Spinach Dip (New Atkins for a New You Cookbook).
What would the holidays be without them? Sweet, crisp, and delicious, the beloved fruit is also filled with fiber, can help control blood sugar levels, and may help prevent LDL cholesterol. Plus, apples fill you up with very few calories, so they’re a great food to help you stay on track. Try Grilled Mini Inside-Out Apple Pies (Healthful Pursuit) for a deliciously healthy twist on a holiday dessert classic. Bonus? Your house will smell amaaaaaaazing!
Pears or quince are great substitutes for apples if you’re looking for a subtler flavor. Both still give you a high dose of fiber.
This traditional holiday spice has been used for centuries to help alleviate colds and congestion and help settle the stomach. It has antioxidants that help protect your cells, and it can even help lower high blood-sugar levels, especially helpful for those with diabetes. Add a dash to your holiday pies, cookies, hot cocoa, tea, eggnog, and even your hot toddies on chilly nights.
Like cinnamon, ginger also helps to settle the stomach and reduce cold and allergy symptoms. It’s also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, great for arthritis. It has a strong, festive flavor, without adding calories. Try it in Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Bread (Food 52), a healthier version of a winter favorite. Don’t forget you’ll be getting a nutritional boost from the pumpkin. It’s a delicious treat, perfect with a warm cup of coffee.
These tart little gems have been shown to help prevent urinary tract infections and work as a powerful antioxidant, helping to flush fat and toxins from your system. Rich in a phytochemical called anthocyanins, they can help promote healthy circulation, nerve function, and lower LDL cholesterol. They’re also on every holiday table! Added to sauces and glazes, they give a tart sweetness. You can also try adding them to your apple pie for a seasonal twist, or sprinkling them on salads for a festive addition.
Chestnuts, Almonds, Walnuts, and Pistachios
Nuts are a great source of omega-3s, selenium, fiber, and protein. Their phytonutrients help ward off cell damage, and just a small handful is enough to keep you full longer, which can help you manage your weight over the holidays. Check out these instructions for classic Roasted Chestnuts (YumSugar). Nuts are a great snack for mingling guests at your holiday party, and make a great addition to holiday cookies, breads, and pies, too!
We never get tired of this one. Dark chocolate contains flavonols, a potent antioxidant that can help fight off toxins and protect your cells. It also contains those wonderful, feel-good compounds that cheer you up, can help lower your blood pressure, and, eaten in moderation, it can help ward off craving for other, less-healthy sweet treats. Try whipping up this easy Cranberry Pistachio Dark Chocolate Bark (Skinny Taste) for a super healthy treat (all of its ingredients made our list!). It makes a wonderful gift, too!
In moderation, red wine can be super beneficial to heart health. It contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that prevents cellular damage, prevents blood clotting, and helps reduce plaque formation in arteries. Some studies have also shown that red wine can help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Indulge in a glass without the guilt!
Have happy and healthy holiday!