If there's one thing that I think we all can agree on, it's the fact that one of the best things about this time of year is all of the good home-cooked eatin' that we get to partake of. It's like, no matter whose house you walk into, there's gonna be some sort of casserole, freshly-baked pie or traditional family recipe that the host is going to be more than happy to offer you—and you're gonna be more than happy to oblige.
Problem is, even when it comes to holiday cooking and eating, there is such a thing as going overboard. Even though most of us only gain 1-2 pounds by the time the New Year officially gets to going, it's still important to go easy on foods that may taste good but aren't exactly the healthiest for you and your system. For the record, some that top the list include eggnog, pot roast, cheesecake, sausage stuffing, croissants, and just about any kind of dip that you can think of. The main reason is because they are loaded with fat and calories.
That's the bad news. The good news is there are several "traditional holiday foods" that are actually pretty good for you (especially if you prepare them in a healthy way). If you're ready to know what you actually can chow down on without having any guilt, here are 10 foods that both your taste buds and digestive system will love.
Most of us know that if anything can trigger "itis" in our system, it's turkey. The reason why is because it has a lot of the nutrient tryptophan in it, and since that is what helps our bodies to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin which helps us to sleep…there you have it. But that's not all that turkey is able to do. It's high in protein, niacin and vitamin B3, B6 and B12. If it's skinless and roasted, it's low in fat. Turkey contains less cholesterol than chicken, beef or pork. It's also rich in zinc, selenium and phosphorus. Oh, and as you or one of your relatives is carving the turkey up, if you're curious about if white or dark meat is best, while I'm a dark meat kind of gal myself, it's actually the white kind that wins out; it's got less fat and more vitamins.
One more thing—as far as the "itis" goes, I recently read "Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?" which claims that turkey making us sleepy is a myth. Personally, I still feel that it does. Then again, maybe it's the combo of the turkey and the dressing and the mac 'n cheese that sends us over the edge. Nonetheless, I'd be remiss if I didn't advise that you not eat a turkey leg and drive right after. Don't say a sista didn't warn you.
Try This: Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe
Hands down, one of the most popular foods during this time of the year is pumpkin. It's a fruit that is actually a winter squash that's good for you in a lot of different ways. Pumpkin is loaded with fiber as well as vitamins A, B2, C, E, copper, potassium and manganese. Because it's made up of almost 95 percent water, it's a low-calorie food. Some of its other health benefits include the fact that pumpkin is high in antioxidants, the iron in it will help to keep your red blood cells in good shape, and pumpkin contains compounds that are good for your skin as well.
Cranberry sauce. Cranberry muffins. Apple crisp with cranberries in it. These are some of the dishes that come to mind whenever I think about how cranberries are incorporated into the holiday season. They are another fruit that you can feel good about because they're a superfood that contain powerful antioxidants to fight off the bacteria that causes urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries also have the ability to remove toxins and build-up in your digestive tract. They are also able to reduce your risk of heart disease and fight the cells that lead to breast and lung cancer too. Something else that's cool about cranberries is they've got polyphenols (micronutrient compounds) to build up your immune system so that the dreaded cold and flu bugs can be kept at bay.
Try This: Healthy Cranberry Sauce Recipe
4. Green Beans
When it comes to green beans, let's actually go with the bad news first. Although green bean casserole is a staple on a lot of people's holiday season menu, it's important to avoid using a ton of canned soup and fried onions while preparing it. Since both of those are considered to be processed foods, this means that they've also got more than their fair share of preservatives and sodium in them.
That said, green beans themselves are super good for you. For starters, they've got folate, vitamins A, C and K, and the chemical element silicon (which is really good for your skin and hair) in it. Some other perks include the fact that green beans contain no cholesterol, they've got a good amount of protein, calcium and magnesium in them, and they're 31 calories per serving which means that you can have more than a couple of servings, if you'd like.
Try This: Healthy Green Bean Casserole Recipe
Gingerbread. Ginger tea. Ginger cookies. There's a good chance that you'll have at least one of these things before the new year rolls around—and yes, since ginger is in them, you're in good hands. The best thing about this particular spice is it has the bioactive compound gingerol in it. Thanks to gingerol, if you've got this in your system, the medicinal properties in it will help to fight off any cold-related symptoms. Some other benefits of ginger is, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger reduces muscle pain and soreness (if you consume it daily); lowers blood sugar levels in your system; treats chronic indigestion; reduces menstrual pain and discomfort and, of course, it's the go-to for motion sickness and pregnancy-related nausea.
So yeah, keep some ginger tea bags or some crystalized ginger in tow if you're about to board a flight, if you know you're about to eat more cobbler than you should, or if you are newly expecting (congrats if you are, by the way!). By consuming some, you'll feel much better.
Try This: Healthy Gingerbread Muffins Recipe
Would it even be a traditional holiday meal without collard greens? Hmph. Not if you're sittin' at a Black family's table, it wouldn't. And yes, this is a food that also makes the list because dark leafy greens always have our back. When it comes to collards, in particular, they have about four grams of protein per serving in them. They are also high in vitamins A, B6, C, E and K. The amino acids that are in collards have a remarkable way of detoxifying your liver and boosting your immune system while the Vitamin K that are in them will help to keep your bones nice and strong. The key is to prepare them without all of the bacon, salt and fat. Yeah, collards are a brilliant example that, when it comes to healthy eating, it's not always about the food itself but how you prepare it.
It really can't be said enough. Although sweet potatoes and yams are both "tuber vegetables", they are not the same; they aren't even related.
The reason why this is important to mention is because I can't tell you how many times that I've been grocery shopping with someone who will pick up a sweet potato and think that it's "all good" because it's basically a yam. It isn't. But if you're looking forward to sitting down to some yams this year, you can smile about it because yams contain compounds that bring premenstrual and menopausal relief. Some other great benefits are the fact that yams are also able to lower bodily inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, improve liver and kidney function and bring relief that's associated with rheumatoid arthritis too. Yams have fiber, copper, potassium, manganese and antioxidants in them as well so there's no reason to avoid getting your fill.
If something within is trying to make you feel guilty for having a slice of pecan pie, don't. Pecans are also a food that's really good for you. A fun fact about this nut is it's got more antioxidants than any other nut does. Some other bonuses include the fact that pecans contain monounsaturated fats like oleic acid that are good for your heart, fiber to keep you regular, magnesium to keep you calm and relaxed, and zinc, folate and Vitamin E to keep your skin and hair looking and feeling beautiful. Speaking of beauty, something else that's in pecans is ellagic acid; that provides anti-aging benefits. As far as your hair goes, the amino acid L-arginine that's in them can trigger hair growth. So yeah girl, have that pie. Just remember that it's one thing to have a slice. It's another to eat an entire pie in one sitting. Balance. Balance is key.
Try This: Healthy Pecan Pie Bars Recipe
Whether you're planning on making a dessert out of cocoa or you like nothing more than drinking hot cocoa with a few marshmallows in it, this is something else that is good for your health. Cocoa contains antioxidants that help to fight off free radicals as it also reduces your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Cocoa has also been proven to lower blood pressure, increase blood flow to the brain and even improve depression-related symptoms. Another awesome thing about cocoa is it's got flavanols in it that help to fight type 2 diabetes too. The main thing to keep in mind here is to not "water down the effects" of the cocoa by adding a ton of sugar to it. Also, since not all cocoas are created equal, in order to get the most benefits possible, check out "The 10 Best Cocoa Powders in 2019" to help you figure out which one to buy.
Try This: 5-Minute Vegan Hot Cocoa Recipe
C'mon. You've got to turn up, at least a little bit over the holidays, right? Although a lot of us are more than happy to drink a glass or two of sangria pretty much any time of the year, it's not uncommon to see more than your fair share of it during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since the traditional recipe calls for apples, oranges, peaches, lemons, plums and sometimes strawberries, along with some good ole' red wine—yeah, make it a point to make at least two full pitches of it this holiday season. Just the resveratrol and polyphenols in red wine that help to protect your blood vessels and heart should be enough of a reason to drink and be merry. So, indulge in some old-fashioned sangria. It's just one more reason to look forward to sitting around the holiday-themed dinner table with your loved ones. Enjoy!
Try This: The Ultimate Holiday Sangria Recipe
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Originally published on November 27, 2019