Do traditional holiday meals conjure thoughts of decadent dishes (and the need for an elastic waistband)? If so, I’ve got some good news. No doubt overindulgence can lead to unwanted holiday pounds, but if you keep sensible portions in mind, many seasonal favorites offer surprising health benefits. Here are five healthy picks you won’t want to skip.
1. Bread Stuffing
For many (like me!), a holiday dinner isn’t complete without stuffing. And research suggests that stuffing may actually have some surprising health benefits, thanks to the main ingredient: bread crumbs.
According to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, bread crumbs are rich in an antioxidant, pronyl-lysine, that may guard against cancer properties. The researchers reported that bread crumbs had about eight times more pronyl-lysine compared to the softer, inner parts of loaf. What’s more, it’s thought to be concentrated in even higher amounts when you cut bread into smaller pieces and brown in the oven, as when you make stuffing.
Most recipes call for white bread, but you can make stuffing from a blend of white and whole grain bread or whole grain bread exclusively. Breads provide 80-100 calories per slice and pack in more than 15 different vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Looking for ways to keep your stuffing slim? Cut back on the butter your recipe calls for, boost the antioxidant-packed rosemary and bake stuffing outside of the bird (that will not only shave calories, it also reduces the risk of foodborne illness).
The deep ruby color of fresh pomegranates not only make a holiday table look gorgeous, they’re a true seasonal super food. Known for their delicious, sweet-tart taste, pomegranates are loaded with good nutrition. At about 100 calories for 4 to 5 ounces, pomegranate seeds (known as arils) are a good source of fiber and vitamin C. They also contain powerful antioxidants – including punicalagin (a compound unique to pomegranates) and anthocyanin, which is responsible for giving pomegranates their red color. These seasonal gems are at peak quality from October to January, so now is the time to enjoy.
Confused about what to do with pomegranates? Their sweet-tart taste and crunchy texture make them ideal for snacking, entrees, side dishes and desserts. For a colorful twist on a traditional holiday favorite, try this Pomegranate-Brussels Sprouts side dish.
Worried about weight gain this holiday season? Reach for an apple. Versatile, portable and delicious, apples can be one of your secret weight loss weapons. Researchers from the State University of Rio de Janeiro found that women who ate the equivalent of three apples a day lost more weight on a low-calorie diet than women who didn’t add fruit to their diet.
Part of the reason may be that apples are a great source of hunger-fighting fiber. Snack on one large apple (with the skin) for 116 calories, and you’ll consume 5.4 grams of fiber. The high water content will also help keep you full until your next meal, curbing hunger, and preventing the temptation to reach for a high-calorie nibble.
Apples are the perfect anytime-snack. I also love them in oatmeal and salads. If you’re baking this season, apples are ideal for muffins, pies and crumbles. For a sweet holiday treat that your guests will love, try this warm Apple Raisin Crumble.
Nuts are a favorite holiday snack, especially when the annual Thanksgiving football games are on TV. Pistachios are a top pick because they boast heart healthy fats and hunger-tackling protein and fiber. One of the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie snack nuts, in-shell pistachios are the skinny nut because you can enjoy more of them (49 per ounce) compared to most other snack nuts.
What’s more, pistachios are a “mindful” snack. In-shell pistachios take longer to eat, encouraging you to slow down and the leftover shells can potentially make you more aware of how much you’ve eaten.
Enjoy them as a snack on their own or try this Spicy Roasted Squash with Pistachios.
If you thought pumpkins were only for carving, think again! While the large varieties sold for Halloween have little flavor, the smaller, “sweet” pumpkins also known as pie or sugar pumpkins are perfect for cooking—from pies, cakes and tarts to risotto, soups and stews. One cup of cooked pureed or mashed pumpkin provides about 50 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, and is loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Pumpkins provide vitamin C, iron, zinc, potassium, and are among the best sources of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and several other carotenoids.
Most people fail to get enough deep orange veggies in their diet, so pumpkin should be a seasonal staple in your kitchen. The dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of getting 5-6 servings a week of red or orange veggies for their anti-inflammatory and heart health benefits.
For a tasty and healthy start to your day, try these Mini Pumpkin Muffins.