The (not so) Secret Nutrition Perks of Our Favorite Holiday Foods

It’s time again to enjoy all of our favorite holiday food traditions. While loading up on pie and green bean casserole, it’s easy to feel like this time of year is one indulgence after another. But the holiday season isn’t just about treating yourself. A lot of our favorite holiday foods have serious nutrition benefits. Let’s take a look at some holiday classics that are more than just delicious.

Cranberries

Cranberries are a holiday staple, but these small fruits are full of nutrients and easy to incorporate into any meal. Cranberries are packed with vitamins C, E, and K, which help to support a healthy immune system and blood clotting factors. But that’s not all: whether raw or cooked, these little berries can also help you meet your daily fiber intake.

Pumpkin

This time of year, pumpkins are everywhere! They have so many great uses that aren’t limited to decorations. Like many other squash varieties, pumpkins can be roasted, blended into soup, or pureed and used in pies or other baked goods. Pumpkins contain high amounts of beta carotene and Vitamin A. Beta carotene is a free-radical fighting antioxidant and vitamin A promotes healthy skin, bones, and eyes, and helps support the function of white blood cells which is important for a healthy immune system.

Pumpkin Spice

Don’t fight it – this time of year, it’s basically impossible to avoid pumpkin spice. But what actually is it, besides your favorite fall latte flavor? For the most part, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves are the flavors we taste in pumpkin-spiced products. A few of these spices have demonstrated particular health benefits, including cinnamon, which has been shown to help lower blood sugar in several studies, and ginger is used to relieve some gastrointestinal issues. All of these spices can be added to recipes as a way to inject fall flavors of your favorite holiday foods without adding more sugar or salt.

Turkey

What’s more traditional for the holidays than turkey? Eating turkey, especially the white meat, is a great way to boost lean protein intake. It’s is also a great source of B-vitamins, iron, and zinc. Contrary to popular belief, eating turkey will not make you sleepy. That post-meal drowsiness is often due to overeating, which is something we tend to do during the holidays. Choosing moderate portions and practicing mindful eating during your holiday meals can fend off that “overstuffed” feeling.

Nuts

We’re all familiar with “chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”, but what about walnuts, pecans or almonds? Whether they’re sprinkled in a fall salad, encrusted on a holiday roast, or added to desserts for the perfect crunch, nuts are a heart-healthy addition to holiday recipes. Many types of nuts are a good source of plant-based protein, as well as a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce the risk of heart disease and help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood.

Though we may see the holidays as a season of indulgence, remember that many of the foods gracing the dinner table or appetizer plate can still have health benefits, when eating proper portions. That (small) slice of pumpkin pie is looking better and better… 

This blog post includes contributions from Julia Werth, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.