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Health Benefits of Your Favorite Holiday Foods


Health Benefits of Your Favorite Holiday Foods

So often during the holidays, we look at food as delicious, but stressful and calorically dense. This mentality leaves little room for our brains to think about and appreciate the health benefits and nutrients of our favorite holiday foods. Read below for a quick low down on some of the healthful nutrients that make up these delicious dishes.

Party nuts
Nuts (think almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and cashews) provide a great source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat and fiber, which have both been shown to have an effect in lowering unhealthy blood cholesterol. Nuts also contain a compound called L-arginine, which can help your artery walls become more flexible, leading to less risk for blood clots. One ounce of nuts (approximately 22 almonds) is the perfect portion to reap the benefits of this party food.

We always hear about turkey containing the amino acid tryptophan, which causes all the napping we do after the big holiday meal. In reality, there is not enough of this amino acid in turkey to produce this side effect. We nap after Thanksgiving purely because of the larger than normal amount of food consumed at the meal. However, tryptophan is a precursor of niacin (vitamin B3), which is present in turkey and is vital for proper digestive and nerve function. Vitamins B6, B12, choline, selenium, and zinc are also present in turkey. Additionally, turkey is the best source of protein that can be found in the holiday buffet line. Three ounces (oz) of turkey (think the size of your palm) provides approximately 26 grams (g) of protein, which will help to stabilize your post-Thanksgiving meal blood sugar as well as keep you satiated for a longer period of time.

Mashed or roasted potatoes
White potatoes (think russet, fingerling, red gold, Yukon gold) contain vitamin B6, potassium, copper, and vitamin C. One cup of potatoes contains 32% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) for vitamin B6, which plays essential roles in red blood cell production, carbohydrate metabolism, and neurotransmitter production.

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes contain fiber, vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C, potassium, and manganese, among many other nutrients. One medium sweet potato contains 214% of the DRI for Vitamin A, which plays a role in vision and immune health as well as cell growth. Fat is essential for maximum absorption for vitamin A, and other fat-soluble vitamins. As little as 5 g of fat (1.5 teaspoons of olive oil) is enough to ensure proper absorbency of vitamin A. The fiber in sweet potatoes, 4 g in a medium sweet potato, promotes gut regularity, which is something to be thankful for during the holiday stress!

Green beans
Green beans are not only great for adding a change of color to your holiday plate, they also come with plenty of nutritional benefits for which to be thankful. For starters, green beans are low in calories; only 45 calories per cup, which means you can have as many as you want without the guilt! Green beans have practically every vitamin and mineral present in their composition. One cup of green beans contains 22% of the DRI for vitamin K, which is essential in blood clotting and bone formation, and is oftentimes a harder vitamin to come across.

Root vegetables 
Root vegetables (turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips) add a natural and earthy flavor to any meal and can be prepared in many different ways to satisfy even the pickiest eater. Thanks to the plethora of root vegetables and varied colors, most vitamins and minerals can be obtained. One medium turnip provides over 50% of daily vitamin C needs! The beta carotene found in beets and carrots are linked to vision and skin health. Finally, a half cup of parsnips provides 11% of daily folate needs, which is necessary for energy and red blood cell metabolism.

Corn casserole
Corn is often times demoted to the bottom of the vegetable list for its perceived lack of nutritious value. Surprisingly though, corn is full of antioxidant phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, lutein, and many more, which have all been shown to have cardiovascular and digestive benefits. Not to mention, corn is an excellent source of fiber at 5 g per cup, fiber which feeds the healthy bacteria already in your gut.

Cranberry dishes
Cranberries add an antioxidant power to your holiday meal, thanks to vitamins C and E. They are perhaps best know for fighting urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a specific compound in cranberries, proanthocyanidins (PACs), which work to inhibit bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls. This same mechanism also works in the mouth. PACs inhibit bacteria from adhering to the teeth, which reduces the risk for dental cavities and gum disease.

Pumpkin pie 
Pumpkin pie is one of the healthiest holiday desserts thanks to the nutrients found in its main ingredient. Pumpkin contains excellent sources of fiber, manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and zinc, which have varied roles in the body from carbohydrate and fat metabolism, enzyme production, blood sugar control, skin integrity, energy production, and antioxidant protection. Pumpkin seeds are also a nutrient powerhouse; just 1 oz (1/4 cup) of seeds provides 74% of the DRI for manganese.

Read more of this article from Alex Lewis, RD, LD @ Nutrition 411

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