5. Take advantage of "nutritionally dense" holiday foods
Perhaps you've never thought of traditional holiday foods as a nutritional gift. You may have considered those 10 pounds you gained from holiday eating more of a nutritional wake-up call than a gift. Fortunately, many holiday food staples can supply our bodies with a multitude of health-enhancing nutrients and when consumed in moderation, can actually become year-round nutritional staples. So during this holiday season, be sure to include these health enhancing foods:
Pumpkin: You can eat that scrumptious pumpkin pie without all the guilt! Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene (269 percent RDA per half-cup serving), which is converted to resistance-building vitamin A. Pumpkin is also a wonderful source of iron (17 percent RDA per half-cup serving), a mineral essential for transporting oxygen to our working cells. And surprisingly, canned pumpkin contains 15 times more beta-carotene than fresh pumpkin. Reduce the fat content of pumpkin pie by using egg substitute and evaporated skim milk instead of whole eggs and cream, and replace the traditional pastry crust with crushed ginger snap cookies or graham crackers instead.
Cranberries: Cranberries are a fruit for all seasons, although they're more apparent during the holidays. The cranberry's plant pigment that provides color to our holiday plate also provides a number of compounds that have shown early promise against cancer and heart disease. The ellagic acid in cranberries has been shown to help prevent tumor growth by disarming cancer-causing agents. In addition, cranberries contain two powerful flavonoids--quercetin and myricetin--that have been shown to prevent damage to blood vessel linings, thereby playing a role in the prevention of artery disease. Because cranberries are tart when eaten alone, many cranberry sauce recipes call for a lot of sugar. Generally, reducing the sugar content by 25 percent still yields a tasty product. Many diabetics have used the sweetener Splenda (sucrolose) instead of sugar with great success. Splenda is stable for cooking and baking and measures just like sugar, without the added calories.
Turkey: Since the pilgrims' first Thanksgiving feast, turkey has been a staple protein source. Turkey also provides significant sources of B-vitamins, selenium and zinc, nutrients essential for optimal nerve and immune function. Skip the outer skin and you'll avoid most of the fat. While white meat (turkey breast) is generally considered the most nutritious part of the bird with its low fat content, darker meat contains 10 percent more iron per three-ounce serving. When selecting a turkey, choose fresh, unbaked rather than pre-basted--these are injected with an oil and salty broth mixture. You can baste the turkey with broth, sherry or white wine rather than butter to further reduce the fat content.
Sweet Potatoes: Despite an impressive nutritional profile and sweet flavor, sweet potato consumption has gone down instead of up. A four-ounce sweet potato contains a mere 143 calories and provides over 100 percent of our daily needs for beta-carotene. It also provides more than a quarter of our daily needs for vitamins C and E--nutrients that have been shown to help protect cell damage in athletes competing in extreme environments (e.g., altitude, heat, cold, pollution), as well as enhance muscle recovery after intense running efforts. In addition, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of iron, a nutrient commonly lacking in vegetarian athletes. So expand your intake of sweet potatoes beyond the traditional Thanksgiving casserole: Add sweet potatoes to chili or your favorite potato salad recipe; shred it raw into hamburger, meatloaf and meatball mixtures; toss chunks of it into salads; or use mashed sweet potato as ravioli stuffing.
Chestnuts - "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" provide quite the nutritional punch. In contrast to other calorie- and fat-laden nuts, chestnuts contain less than one gram of fat per ounce, while providing a hefty dose of fiber (3.7 grams), vitamin C (12 percent RDA), and folic acid (10 percent RDA)--nutrients important for immune function, formation of collagen and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Chestnuts are good in stuffing, pilaf, vegetable side dishes and soups. They're also excellent snacks by themselves.
6. Offer to bring a healthy dish to holiday parties
If you're concerned about the unhealthy array of foods that are bound to be served at an upcoming function, call the host ahead of time to see if you can bring a healthy dish. Chances are, the host will be happy to have some help with the overwhelming task of pleasing a hungry crowd!
For appetizers, you could bring a vegetable platter with low-fat dip; a colorful fruit platter with a dip made from nonfat yogurt blended with a dab of fat-free cool whip garnished with roasted chestnuts; whole wheat pita triangles served with hummus; or baked tortilla chips with chunky salsa and/or fat-free refried bean dip.