Yes, there is such thing as a healthy holiday food. In fact, there are many! When we think of holiday festivities, gatherings, and meals, we often think of all the succulent dishes and decadent desserts that are the central theme to these occasions. However, with a little planning and thoughtfulness, you can actually get some nutritional gains from these foods. Choosing wisely will help you to prevent the typical holiday weight gain while boosting your nutrient intake.
- Starchy vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato are key holiday foods. Pumpkin puree can be used in baked goods to replace some of the fat, soups, and other dishes, and is a great source of fiber and vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.
- Non-starchy vegetables are a great way to fill some of the space in your stomach so you don’t eat very large portions of heavy, calorie-dense food. Loading up on veggies as crudité or hors d’oeuvres before the meal and including at least two vegetables at your holiday meal will help to cut the calories without you even realizing. Vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, string beans, and broccoli are high in fiber, antioxidants, and various vitamins and minerals.
All fruits are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Fit fruit in wherever you can – choosing fruit cocktail or fresh fruit for dessert instead of some of those pies and cookies will surely reduce your calorie and fat intake!
Including lean protein sources at your meals can help to prevent those spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels that often occur after meals.
Turkey breast is a great source of lean protein, as well as nutrients like vitamins B3 and B6, selenium, phosphorus, and zinc.
- Fish is a well-known source of omega-3 fatty acids and another low-calorie source of protein, but did you know that fish is also high in vitamin D, riboflavin, iodine, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and magnesium??
- Pork cuts like tenderloin, loin, roast, boneless loin chop, and boneless ham are lower-calorie and lean. In addition to being a good source of protein, pork is also rich in iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
- Beef is high in iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, B vitamins, and of course, protein. Keep it lean to save calories and damaging saturated fats by choosing cuts like sirloin, tenderloin, top loin, eye of round, top round, and tip round.
- Cheese is often served during appetizer time. If you are hosting or contributing, serve or cook with reduced fat or 2% varieties (no one will know the difference) to boost levels of calcium, phosphorus, zinc, protein, and vitamins A and B12.
When you eat healthy fats instead of carbohydrates, it can lower your bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising your good cholesterol. Serve nuts and seeds for “munchies” and incorporate avocado, flaxseed, and healthy oils like olive, canola, and peanut into your holiday recipes.
- Egg nog is traditionally a high sugar, high fat beverage, but today there are many low-fat/low-sugar varieties and alternatives – you just have to look for them… or make it yourself! Since this is a milk-based beverage, it is a good source of protein and calcium.
- Wine is rich in resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, and can raise good cholesterol levels in moderation (the key being moderation). This is a good option in terms of alcoholic beverages since there are no added mixers. To lighten it up, add some seltzer or club soda.
- Coffee and tea are an excellent way to start or end a gathering or holiday meal. Not only do they provide antioxidants, but they are calorie-free beverages that you can sip on while warming up and socializing. Try holiday varieties like candy cane and gingerbread flavored teas and pumpkin spice coffee (make sure the flavor is brewed in versus a flavored syrup that’s added in). Remember that flavored lattes and coffee drinks can contribute hundreds of calories to your day, so choose skim milk options and a small size whenever possible.