Each year, the holiday season spells certain doom for even the most disciplined of diets. Winter has always been a classic time for comfort foods, warm and rich in the calories, fat, and sugar traditionally needed to get us through the cold months to come. While it is certainly acceptable to take a break every now and then from our strict diets to enjoy a large meal with family and friends, knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid can save you a lot of catching up later on. Here are just a few of the superstar foods you should encourage yourself to try out during this holiday season.
It truly is a shame that almost 95% of the cranberries cultivated in the United States are processed or sweetened into juices and sauces. Fresh cranberries are well known to be rich across a wide variety of helpful phytochemicals. Scientific studies from throughout recent decades have linked these chemicals to a dazzling array of health benefits.
These including antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, commercial techniques such as pressing, concentrating, and drying inactivate a large proportion of the fruit’s unique flavonoid composition, destroying most of its potential nutritional value.
So if you’re looking to have a bit of cranberry sauce with your Thanksgiving turkey this year, try making a simple cranberry compote at home instead of the canned relish you’d normally reach for. Simmer fresh cranberries in pineapple juice or a simple syrup made with Splenda instead of sugar to preserve the natural tart-sweetness of the cranberries themselves. Add a bit of lemon or orange zest for a fresh citrus note. You can even spice it up with a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom for a more savory direction.
Once feared and shunned by children and adults alike, this strange bitter, miniature head of cabbage is in fact one of nature’s most powerful foods, rich in many valuable nutrients. A mere 100 grams of the small leafy buds are only 45 calories with over 3 grams of both protein and fiber, jam packed with vitamins A and C.
Brussel sprouts also boast a staggering number of helpful flavonoids and antioxidants; their protective umbrella ranging from a wide variety of cancers to eye degeneration and Alzheimer’s. A number of recent studies have even revealed the vegetable’s unique ability to protect our DNA from damage.
There’s actually a scientific explanation behind the “you either love it or you hate it” sentiment that seems to surround brussel sprouts. Raw brussel sprouts are heavy in a bitter chemical known as PTC that most of us find unappetizing. Interestingly enough, about 30% of the general population cannot taste PTC based on genetics, which might explain why some love eating raw brussel sprouts. Sound gross? There’s still hope for the rest of us. As the bitter compound is broken down by heat, roasting your brussel sprouts is a great way to get rid of the odd taste while preserving much of their nutrients.
When they haven’t been stewed in syrup and topped with gooey marshmallows to make a casserole, yams or sweet potatoes are a great starch alternative to any holiday meal. Certain proteins unique to the sweet potato have been shown to significantly inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells.
Not only rich in vitamins A, C, and magnesium, sweet potatoes have nearly double the dietary fiber and potassium of normal ones. Yams are also lower in calories, carbs, and starch, despite being higher in terms of sugar content.
Due to their high carbohydrate content, sweet potatoes can be highly satiating and keep you feeling full for longer. Roasting yams in the oven are a great way to bring out the natural sweetness of your spuds without adding any unnecessary oil or fat to the recipe. Staying away from those buttery mashed potatoes with gravy and opting for herb-roasted sweet potatoes this year will surely spare you both the calories and fat.
While this bird might be king of the dinner table on Thanksgiving, there’s no reason why we should abandon it in favor of glazed hams and pot roasts in the winter months. When comparing a standard beef tenderloin to turkey meat, a serving of each contains about the same amount of protein, but turkey has half the calories and only a quarter of the fat. Of all the commercial meats, turkey is also the highest in a trace mineral called selenium, which plays an important role in immune and oxidative function.
Eating a protein-rich light meat such as turkey during a festive occasion will keep you feeling satiated for longer and away from potential snacking. Leftovers can always be recycled into nutritious sandwiches and salads for the next few days. It is always important to research and know where your turkey came from before you prepare it.
Processed turkey products are generally high in sodium and packed with carcinogenic nitrates, just the antithesis of a healthy alternative. Many brands of commercial and farmed turkeys are also raised with antibiotics which may lead to later health risks.
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