Healthy holiday foods
‘Tis the season for groaning sideboards and sweet treats. Of course, I love all of the cooking, baking and eating during the holidays. But this time of year can be full of gastronomical landmines for anyone striving to maintain a healthy diet or a trim waistline.
It’s no secret that the holidays can pack on the pounds and cause us to indulge in some unhealthy food choices. But knowing which holiday foods harm and which foods heal can help keep you on track.
First, the bad news
If you suffer from a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease, the holidays can be a dangerous time. After all, who wants to forego the eggnog or potato latkes? But be aware that just one holiday feast can result in thousands of calories. In fact, one serving of roast goose has a whopping 784 calories and a slice of apple pie adds another 500 calories! You can also tally up an amazing amount of calories, fat and carbs from some unexpected places. Just look at what you can get grazing at a typical holiday party:
4 rye crackers with 1/2 ounce of soft cheese
You also need to watch those liquid calories. Alcohol actually contains almost as many calories per gram as fat (7 calories vs. 9 calories per gram) and plenty of carbs too. For example, drinking just four ounces of a margarita packs an amazing 270 calories! So choose your holiday libations carefully. If you drink, opt for red wine. Not only is it low in calories – a mere 85 calories per four ounces – it’s packed with heart-healthy resveratrol.
Eat, drink, be merryBefore you start thinking I’m the Grinch trying to steal all of your holiday fun, there are lots of wonderful holiday foods that are good for you too. Here are the top twelve good-for-you foods to include in your holiday menu:
• Apples – This fruit lowers cholesterol and the risk for cancer. Apples are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber and have mild antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity. They are also packed with flavonoids. Researchers in
• Barley – This wonderfully versatile grain has a rich nutlike flavor, making it a natural addition to soups, stuffing and rice pilaf. High in fiber and selenium, this chewy grain is also a good source of phosphorus, copper and manganese. It’s also been show to lower cholesterol levels and guard against colon cancer.
• Blueberries – Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, folate, fiber and phytonutrients. Indeed, fresh blueberries are some of the most powerful disease-fighting foods available – topping the ORAC scale (a method of measuring antioxidant activity). You can add these potent antioxidants to whole grain muffins or desserts for a healthy boost of nutrition.
• Cinnamon – This spice is a strong stimulator of insulin activity, making it potentially helpful for those with Type 2 diabetes. It also boasts mild anti-coagulant activity.
• Cranberries - Cranberries are packed with vitamin C and also provide a fair amount of dietary fiber and manganese. Cranberries also contain proanthocyanidins, which can prevent the adhesion of bacteria in the urinary tract.
• Cruciferous Vegetables – Broccoli,
• Green Beans - Green beans are probably one of the healthiest foods out there. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K (important in bone health) and manganese. Also they contain a good amount of vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, folate and iron.
• Pumpkin - Pumpkin is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium and manganese. It’s also a good source of fiber. Pumpkin seeds are also high in good-for-you poly- and mono-unsaturated fat, as well as compounds that help to prevent benign prostatic hyperplasia. Studies show that one of the carotenoids in pumpkins, beta-cryptoxanthin, significantly lowers the risk of developing lung cancer.
• Salmon – This tasty fish is a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids - which has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. In 2002, the American Heart Association recommended eating at least two servings of fish a week, particularly fatty fish such as salmon.
• Sweet Potatoes - Sweet Potatoes are a rich source of antioxidants, especially vitamin C and beta-carotene. They are also an excellent source of potassium. But the most impressive quality these root vegetables offer may come from preliminary studies that show that sweet potatoes helped stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.
• Walnuts – There’s no better way to add extra nutrition, flavor and crunch to a meal than by adding a handful of walnuts. An excellent source of omega-3 fatty cids for heart and brain health, walnuts also offer a good source of manganese and copper, two minerals that are essential cofactors in a number of enzymes important in antioxidant defenses.
One last thing . . .
Here’s another reason to watch your calories this holiday season. A recent report by the International Obesity Task Force has concluded that being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of cancer – especially cancers of the colon, breast, endometrium, kidneys and esophagus.
Along with including healthy, low-cal foods in your holiday eating plan, substitute lowfat versions of traditional favorites like eggnog. Choose turkey over fat-filled goose or ham. And remember that you don’t need to try every type of cookie or donut on the plate. Limit yourself to one and remember that most of the pleasure we get from food comes with the first bite.
This just in . . .
As we approach the shortest day of the year (December 21), night vision becomes a priority – especially if you’re behind the wheel. But a new study in the British Journal of Nutrition provides concrete evidence that supplementing with a highly concentrated extract of bilberry may help improve night vision in nearsighted people.
The new study involved 60 nearsighted volunteers with mild to moderate myopia. The subjects received either 100 mg. of a bilberry extract twice a day or a placebo for four weeks. Contrast sensitivity, a measure of night-time visual function, was tested before and after treatment. The volunteers also answered questions regarding the frequency and severity of their eye symptoms including eye strain, dryness, tearing, blurry vision and decreased vision in dark places.
By the end of the study, the bilberry-supplemented group showed greater improvement in eye symptoms than the placebo group. Contrast sensitivity was also significantly improved in the bilberry group, suggesting an improvement in night vision.
If you’re nearsighted and have trouble seeing at night, try taking bilberry. Although this study used a supplement containing 85 percent anthocyanosides, most commercial varieties only provide 25 percent of this potent antioxidant. To make up the difference, the typical recommendation to improve night vision is 240 to 600 mg per day.***
Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. “Lipids significantly reduced by diets containing barley in moderately hypercholesterolemic men.” Journal of the
“Improve Night Vision with Herbal Extract.” Health Notes. 10 November 2005.
Knekt P, Jarvinen R, Reunanen A, Maatela J. Flavonoid intake and coronary mortality in
“Obesity and cancer more closely linked than previously thought.” NutraIngredients.