It’s the holidays! I love the holidays…spending time with family and friends, making the rounds of holiday parties, making and eating lots of wonderful meals. Every year as the waistband on my pants starts to feel a little tight, I start to think about how I can make all this holiday eating healthier for me and my family. Luckily, with some careful choices, traditional holiday food can be jam-packed with nutrition.
There are a number of traditional winter foods that are considered “superfoods” which are foods that are loaded with vitamins, minerals and key nutrients. By mixing some of these foods into our holiday meals, we can feel a little less guilty about that second helping! The good news is many of these holiday superfoods are probably already on your list. I try to build as many meals, sides, appetizers and treats around these foods as I can. Here are my top six:
Winter squash and pumpkin: These close cousins are chock full of vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber. I use them interchangeably. We eat them as a side: mashed or cubed and roasted. They make a great addition to a stew… just peel and chop and toss them in. How about a hearty soup? Squash soups blend well with curry or for a sweeter taste, with apple. We make them into quick bread. My kids favorite: pumpkin chocolate chip bread.
Brussels sprouts: These cabbage relatives are full of vitamin C, potassium,fiber, calcium, and even some protein. We cut them in half, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them until crispy on the edges. They are equally good shredded and sauteed in some olive oil or butter.
Sweet potatoes: These are considered to be one of the best sources of beta-carotene and studies have shown that sweet potatoes can raise blood levels of vitamin A. What’s interesting is that having some fat in the same meal as sweet potatoes actually help you get the full beta-carotene benefits. It’s easy and flavorful to substitute sweet potatoes for any other starch such as rice or white potatoes. A simple way to prepare them is to cut them into ½ inch slices and steam, and sprinkle with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or even real maple syrup for extra nutrition and flavor.
Pomegranate: This ruby red fruit has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, but a number of recent studies have begun to help us understand how beneficial this delicious superfood is! It may helpful in warding off heart disease, osteoporosis, some types of cancer and more, and it is a great source of vitamins A, C and E, iron, and fiber. Did I mention how good they taste? You can eat them straight – cut in half and spoon the seeds out of the peel, or sprinkle the seeds on salads, ice cream or as a flavorful side on a plate. They are great for garnishes for holiday party dishes since they look so festive.
Dark chocolate: This has to be my favorite. It’s hard to believe that eating chocolate can actually be good for you! It seems to good to be true! (Of course everything in moderation!) Dark chocolate is chock-full of nutrients, may help lower blood pressure, and raise your HDL levels among other potential benefits. You can probably come up with your own ideas of how to use chocolate, but remember that the darker the chocolate (i.e. the higher the cocoa content) the better. Shoot for 70% if you can.
There are other superfoods, such as many types of fresh berries, red wine, broccoli, spices and others. Too many to go into detail here, but the ones above tend to lend themselves well to holiday menus. With this list of holiday superfoods, you can enjoy the holidays and still be doing your body a favor. Happy holidays everyone!