By Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO
The winter holidays are a time for eating delicious food and spending time with friends and family. Studies do show that a small weight gain is common during this festive time. No one food or beverage is good or bad but some have more health properties than others. See the 5 winter holiday foods to indulge in this year and the 5 to reduce your consumption of to optimize happy and healthy festivities this year. Don’t forget other ways of taking care of yourself this busy season; fitness, sleep and stress management play a role in enjoying the holiday season as well!
NICE Holiday Foods
Eat these lighter, nutrient rich foods more often during the winter season but be sure that you are getting the healthiest versions of each dish that you can! Many healthy foods have been modified to unhealthier versions during this festive time of year.
Cranberry sauce: packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, tart cranberries served as sauce, relish or in salads offer refreshing holiday nutrition. Choose a home-made variety to cut back on the amount of sugar that can accompany these delicious berries.
Pumpkin pie: pumpkin is packed with fiber and nutrients and can be combined into many festive dishes due to its thick and creamy texture. When picking out a pie, opt for a version that does not include corn syrup or hydrogenated oils to ensure you are getting access to great nutrition without detrimental ingredients.
Pomegranate: another superfood for the holidays, include pomegranate seeds in a salad or 100% pomegranate juice in a spritzer to maximize antioxidants rather than indulging in other types of beverages. Pomegranate seeds are a perfect addition to any holiday salad or dessert as a beautiful garnish. Quick fact: pomegranate seeds are actually called “Arils.”
Tangerines: the ideal quick snack, tangerines are symbols of the winter holidays. Fiber, vitamin C, and folate abound in these portable citrus fruits. At a party, offer these festive fruits in a beautiful bowl as an alternative sweet treat to other rich, high calorie desserts. Tangerines also make the perfect snack at work if you are trying to avoid the candy bowl!
Brussels sprouts: A famous holiday cruciferous veggie powerhouse, Brussels sprouts offer a nutritional punch hard to compare with. Cancer fighting glucosinolate compounds pair with a high fiber content, tons of vitamin K and Vitamin C. Be sure to enjoy these hearty vegetables simply roasted or shredded rather than swimming in rich sauces or thick dressings for a lower calorie side-dish.
NAUGHTY Holiday Foods
These foods and drinks are special-occasion items to enjoy on occasion; perhaps once during the winter festivities. Dishes packed with sugar and fat are rich in calories and often devoid of true nutrients. Choose these foods less often and read on for tips on how to make them healthier!
Egg nog: save this indulgence for the rare occasion because it is a concentrated source of sugar, fat and calories. An 8-oz serving yields 250 or more calories and upwards of 5 grams of saturated fat. Egg nog is made of cream, eggs, sugar and alcohol so this very rich, decadent treat is best to limit in portion size as well as frequency.
Pecan pie: Corn syrup, maple syrup, and white or brown sugars abound in a traditional pecan pie. Lighten up the recipe by making your own and adding in whole wheat flour, oats, or honey rather than corn syrup. Better yet, opt to snack of pecan nuts on their own rather than in pie form.
Meatballs: high in saturated fat and sodium, these tiny appetizers aren’t the heathiest pick. It is easy to eat ½ the plate as you chat at a party so if you love meatballs on the holidays, grab one or two and step away, filling your plate with other healthy options.
Croissants: white flour and butter: the main ingredients you’ll find in these fluffy rolls. They are delicious but devoid of nutrition. If you do choose to indulge in the occasional croissant, choose a smaller variety or split a larger one with a friend as the size of the roll definitely makes a difference in caloric content.
Coffee beverages: pumpkin spice, gingerbread, eggnog, and peppermint mochas and lattes pack calories, fat and sugar in every sip. For example, a 16-ounce peppermint mocha offers 440 calories and 15 grams of fat (even made with 2% milk!). For the occasional holiday coffee drink, ask for non-fat milk and a reduced portion of syrup. “One pump” or “1/2 pump” still offers the flavor you enjoy with less sugar.
PLOS Blogs. The Truth About Holiday Weight Gain. http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2014/12/17/the-truth-about-holiday-weight-gain-2/ Published 12/17/14. Accessed 11/29/15.
Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, & Sebring NG (2000). A prospective study of holiday weight gain. The New England journal of medicine, 342 (12), 861-7.
World’s Healthiest foods: Oranges. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=37. Accessed 12/6/15.
World’s Healthiest foods: Brussels Sprouts. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=10. Accessed 12/6/15.
Starbucks Menu: Peppermint Mocha. http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/espresso/peppermint-mocha. Accessed 12/6/15.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger’s blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
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