While it may seem that every food you encounter this time of year is loaded with calories, fat, sodium, and sugar, there are plenty of holiday foods that are healthy. Eat these seasonal favorites to give your holiday eating plan a nutritional boost.
Since citrus can be found in the supermarket year round, it’s sometimes forgotten that it is truly a winter fruit. Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits are most delicious during the holiday season. They contain flavonoids that may have the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells. Citrus is also rich in vitamin C, which improves the absorption of iron and acts as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage to cells. Whether eaten whole or juiced, citrus is a healthy addition to holiday meals.
Cranberries are often served as a sweet sauce or dried with added sugar. But the natural, tart flavor of fresh cranberries can be enjoyed with little sweetener. Cranberries provide vitamin C and fiber, and they are full of disease-fighting antioxidants. Cranberries have been found to block bacteria that leads to urinary tract infections, and preliminary research shows they may also block bacteria that leads to stomach ulcers. Chop fresh cranberries and add them to salads or cook them with steel cut oatmeal. Whole cranberries can also be roasted in the oven and added to savory side dishes or blended into sauces.
While it’s still loaded with sugar, molasses has some qualities that make it stand out among other sweeteners. Blackstrap molasses contains iron as well calcium and potassium. When you need to add a touch of sweetness during cooking, try adding some blackstrap molasses and experiment with it as a sweetener for holiday baking.
Nuts provide a lean source of protein and heart-healthy fats. Research shows that eating nuts can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Nuts offer a unique variety of nutrients, including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. Choose lightly salted or unsalted nuts to reduce sodium intake, and enjoy a few as a snack or added to a holiday side dish.
Pomegranates are available October to January, making the holidays the perfect time to find the whole fruit in the supermarket. Pomegranates contain vitamin K and potassium. They are also loaded with polyphenol antioxidants, including punicalagin which is unique to the fruit. These antioxidants have been found to protect cells from the free radical damage that may lead to some chronic diseases. The crunchy, edible seeds in the arils also supply fiber. Sprinkle them into salads or onto your morning oatmeal.
Potatoes have long been labeled as unhealthy because they are most often eaten as French fries. The truth is, potatoes are rich in potassium and provide vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, and iron. There are also many varieties available, which allows you to get creative when preparing healthy meals. Try roasting potatoes with herbs and olive oil, or make mashed purple potatoes for a flavorful side dish that is perfect for a holiday meal.
Sweet potatoes are a healthy holiday staple as long as you go easy on the sugar and butter when preparing them. They supply calcium, potassium and vitamins A and C. For a healthier side dish, try cubing and roasting sweet potatoes, or you can also bake them and then stuff the sweet potatoes with your favorite healthy ingredients.
Foods that fill you up faster and keep you feeling full longer help to decrease your calorie intake. With a few simple steps and minor changes to your meals and snacks, you can feel full with less food.
Eating quickly may cause you to consume more food than you realize. When you don’t take the time to focus on your meal, it’s harder to enjoy the taste and texture of each bite. Not only does this make the meal less satisfying, it disconnects you from your hunger and fullness cues. When you eat slowly, a practice common in mindful eating , it forces you to stop and evaluate how you feel throughout the meal.
Hormones are released and signaling occurs when you eat and the food is digested. These signals indicate to the brain that you have had enough. This can be easily overlooked if you are eating too quickly. You will fill up before your fullness is registered, leading to an increase in the calories you consume. Research has shown that eating more slowly results in feeling full sooner, and a decreased food and calorie intake.
Eat whole foods
A whole food is a food in it’s natural form versus it being heavily processed. For example, whole fruits and vegetables instead of juice. These whole foods contain dietary fiber and water, and they are larger in volume. All of these characteristics contribute to the ability of whole foods to fill you up and keep you fuller longer. Research shows that eating foods that are higher in volume, but lower in calorie density, results in eating less at a meal and throughout the rest of the day.
Add more lean protein
Research shows that including more lean protein in your meals and snacks can help you feel full. It may be even more beneficial if you include protein at breakfast. A study that compared women who ate a protein-rich breakfast with eggs versus a higher carbohydrate breakfast with bagels found that the protein-rich breakfast helped the women feel more satisfied and reduced calorie intake throughout the day. Switch to a higher protein breakfast by incorporating eggs, beans and smoothies, add chicken or beans to your salad at lunch, and replace drinks like juice and soda with higher protein cow or nut milk.
The holidays are meant to be celebrated with delicious foods, but too much celebrating can deter you from your fitness goals. Make the season more nutritious with a few simple steps that will lighten up holiday meals.
Go Heavy on the Herbs and Spices
It’s easy to turn to butter, cream, and salt to flavor food. While these ingredients in moderation can fit into a healthy diet, you can save yourself hundreds of calories by turning to herbs and spices for flavor. Fresh thyme, rosemary and a little garlic mixed into mashed potatoes can help you reduce the salt and butter while still keeping it delicious. For sweeter dishes, like sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. The more flavorful the dish, the less sugar or butter you will need to add to make it satisfying.
Keep Things Simple
The more options that are available, the more foods you are going to want to try, whether you are truly hungry or not. Pick a few favorites and keep it simple. Despite the fact that these foods may be higher in calories, you can still follow a healthy eating plan when it comes to nutrients and food groups. Make sure you have protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fat and plenty of vegetables. Serve appropriate portion sizes to limit calories. Also cut fat and calories by keeping preparations simple. Roasted root vegetables and dark leafy greens are the perfect side dishes for a holiday meal. Balance healthy, simple recipes with the heavier holiday favorites.
Make Easy Swaps
There are simple swaps you can make that will save calories, sodium, and saturated fat. If you snack on nuts with pre-dinner cocktails, add in some unsalted, raw varieties. For recipes that call for butter when sautéing, try substituting half or all of it with olive oil. Add pureed fruits like banana, applesauce, or fresh pineapple to naturally sweeten recipes like sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, or baked goods like muffins. Use whole grain bread in stuffing and choose whole grain rolls. When making cream sauces, try substituting some of the cream with unsalted chicken or vegetable stock. They will thicken in a similar way and once it's mixed into casseroles, it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Cooking more of your own food is one way to control what you eat. When you know how much salt, fat, and other ingredients are added, you can better track your intake to meet your fitness goals. While healthy cooking isn’t as complicated as it may seem, it is easy to fall into a few traps. These cooking mistakes may affect your view of healthy foods and prevent you from maximizing the nutritional value of your meals.
You don't experiment with reducing cooking oil
Follow the recipe the first time you prepare a dish. If it becomes a favorite, try experimenting. Many stovetop recipes for sautéed vegetables use two tablespoons or more of oil. While sometimes this is necessary, other recipes cook just fine with less, which will save you 120 calories per tablespoon you are able to reduce.
You salt before you taste
Many recipes save adding the salt for the final step, after the food is fully cooked. Do you toss in all the salt before giving it a taste? Everyone's preferences for salt are different, and as you decrease your sodium intake, it's likely that your taste buds will be happier with much less. Try adding half the salt suggested by the recipe, and then taste the food. You may find that extra salt isn’t necessary.
Your oven over-bakes
Sometimes the reason you don’t like a food is simply because it hasn’t been prepared correctly. Fish can easily over bake and become tough, roasted vegetables can cook unevenly, and cakes using fruit purees in place of fat or alternative flours can dry out. By getting to know your oven, you can work around these obstacles to make healthy foods that taste delicious. Calibrate your oven temperature and identify hot spots that tend to overcook food. You can learn to lower temperatures when necessary and rotate pans to always get the best results.
You don't weigh and measure
Unlike baking, cooking doesn’t always require an exact balance of ingredients, but a little too much freedom in your technique could mean extra calories. Adding oils and sauces to pans without measuring, not portioning out an appropriate serving of pasta, and tossing in extra toppings like nuts and seeds can cause your final dish to contain more calories than listed by your recipe. Use your measuring tools to ensure you don’t turn an otherwise healthy dish into a high-calorie meal.
Loading up on artificial sweeteners is not the healthiest way to reduce calories. While research is ongoing, some studies show that due to their intensely sweet flavor, these additives can change the way you taste food. Over time this could influence the ability of fruits to satisfy sweet cravings and make other healthy foods taste less appealing. If you want to reduce your intake, read ingredient labels closely, and beware of foods that contain hidden artificial sweeteners.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
The first step to identifying artificial sweeteners is to know the many names that they go by. There are five approved for use in the U.S. Keep your eye out for acesulfame potassium (K), aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
Where to Look for Artificial Sweeteners
As these sweeteners became more popular, they were added to a variety of foods. Even foods that are not labeled “diet” or “sugar free” may contain artificial sweeteners. Though many consumers seek to reduce intake, they still remain in some unexpected places.
Chewing gum. While a “sugar-free” label often indicates that a product contains an artificial sweetener, it is easy to overlook with all of the sweet, fruit flavors available. If you often use gum to curb your appetite, but also want to reduce sweeteners, chewing sugar-free gum may not be the best option.
No-calorie waters. There are many sparkling and non-sparkling waters that are calorie free with natural fruit flavors, but read labels closely. Many use artificial sweeteners similar to diet sodas to sweeten the drink without adding calories.
Salad dressings. It’s easy to check the ingredient lists on salad dressing bottles at the supermarket, but when you order a salad at a restaurant, the ingredients are less clear. Some dressings contain artificial sweeteners, even if they don’t taste overly sweet. Ask about ingredients when dining out or look them up online before you go.
Fruit juice. When drinking juice, choose 100 percent fruit juice without added sugar. It’s tempting to try to save calories with “light” versions of juices, but many contain artificial sweeteners. Try mixing half a serving of juice with sparkling water for a refreshing, lower calorie spritzer.
Frozen yogurt. Many frozen yogurts and ice cream bars contain artificial sweeteners so take a close look at food labels. When you swing into a shop for a treat, keep an eye out for no-sugar-added varieties, which often means that artificial sweeteners have been added.