For those on a calorie budget, the holiday season can seem like a dietary minefield. Cookie platters, office parties, holiday buffets – how to survive without going up a size?
Trade fattening, empty-calorie treats for “holiday superfoods” – traditional seasonal offerings that are low in calories and packed with nutrients. Most holiday superfoods are also high in fiber to fill you up, making it easier to resist temptation.
* Sweet potatoes: This holiday superfood has a beta-carotene content that is off-the-charts – providing 377 percent of your daily vitamin A needs per 103-calorie serving. In addition to promoting eye health, some research shows beta-carotene may help prevent cancer both by neutralizing free radicals and by promoting communication between cells.
* Brussels sprouts: A top source of glucosinolates, “indirect” antioxidants activate the body’s own natural detoxification systems. Brussels sprouts also contain other phytonutrients, like indole-3-carbinol, which helps protect against breast cancer. Containing just 36 calories, one serving of four brussels sprouts provides 100 percent of your daily vitamin C. This promotes skin cell turnover and collagen formation, helping to enhance your “holiday glow.”
* Cranberries. At just 44 calories per cup, cranberries are high in fiber and help lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and may even help boost levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cranberries rank sixth in total antioxidant capacity (the amount of antioxidants in a serving) out of more than 100 commonly consumed foods. Cranberries also supply procyanidin, a phytonutrient that protects against urinary tract infections.
* Baked apples: Three different varieties of apples – Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Gala – made it into the top 20 of the USDA’s antioxidant capacity ranking. In fact, apples provide the main supply of polyphenols – powerful antioxidants that may help inhibit cancer cell proliferation and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol – in the American diet. Fiber content also contributes to apples’ cholesterol-lowering effect.
One medium apple contains 80 calories.
* Pumpkin: In addition to serving as an excellent source of eye-healthy vitamin A, pumpkin also serves as a top source of alpha-carotene, an antioxidant linked to lower lung cancer risk in several studies. Beta-cryptoxanthin, another pumpkin carotenoid, was also found to have potentially protective benefits against lung cancer in a recent research review by the Harvard School of Public Health.
One cup of pumpkin, sliced into cubes, contains 30 calories.
* Pecans: Though usually overshadowed by nut headliners like almonds and walnuts, pecans actually come out on top in terms of antioxidant activity. Like other nuts, pecans contain healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may contribute to their heart health benefits. But pecans are unique in their high amounts of naturally occurring gamma tocopherol – a unique form of vitamin E that may promote prostate and intestinal health.
But don’t go overboard. Pecans, like all nuts, are high in calories, containing 196 calories per ounce.
During meal preparation, don’t negate the health benefits of superfoods by drowning them in butter. You can cut fat content by partially substituting with applesauce or pureed plums.
Put a brake on the gravy train by letting fat congeal in the fridge, skimming it off then reheating the rest before serving. You can also turn stuffing into a health food by adding extra onions (a top source of an anti-Alzheimer’s antioxidant called quercetin), carrots, beans, wild rice or dried fruit.