The holidays are full of dining, family recipes, and food favorites– many of which may not be considered as “healthy.” Although there are a few different ways to prepare these traditional dishes, the hero ingredients found in these staples truly provide outstanding nutrition quality. From root and cruciferous vegetables, to dark leafy greens and rice pigmented fruits like cranberries and cherries, these foods are nutrient powerhouses. It’s important to note that adding certain ingredients with added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium can certainly impact the health quality of the dish, that’s why considering smaller amounts or substitutes for these additives is ideal. Let’s chat about what makes these dishes oh so healthy.
A cruciferous and crunchy vegetable, cabbage is a holiday favorite that not only is delicious when eaten alone but in casseroles too. Cabbage provides phytonutrients, such as glucosinolates, which contain anti-inflammatory properties. That beautifully purple pigment found in red cabbage is a result of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that stimulates antioxidant properties. Interestingly enough, in some studies cabbage has been found to reduce cholesterol levels and increase blood antioxidant levels, making it a heart health champion (1). When preparing cabbage for the holidays, braising in low sodium stock and adding fresh spices, herbs, and salt as needed is a way to keep the integrity of nutrition within this dish. Once sliced, this can also be used as a good topping for meat.
Of course, carrots are healthy as their reputation for supporting eye health can’t go unnoticed. Carrots contain beneficial amounts of soluble fiber, which contribute to lowering cholesterol by binding to dietary cholesterol in the blood. Additionally, fiber contributes to slowing digestion down which effects blood sugar levels. This is certainly beneficial when practicing mindful eating throughout the holidays. Using apple cider brightens the side dish without providing extra sugars or unhealthy fats.
An excellent source of calcium, which plays a role in cell messaging, muscle contraction for your heart, and of course strong bones, collard greens are packed with tons of goodness. These dark leafy greens contain a carotenoid known as zeaxanthin helps fight free radicals and oxidative stress. The plus side of sautéing collard greens is that they were most likely sautéed with an olive oil which contributes to the carotenoids being better absorbed overall.
Yes, mashed potatoes are healthy! Just one caveat here: watch the butter and cream! Minimize the amount of butter or replace it with a healthy fat butter, like avocado butter, to better support the overall nutrition of the meal. Potatoes are extremely nutritious, providing potassium, a nutrient that counteracts the affect of sodium. Vitamin C and fiber are also abundant in this root vegetable. Adding fresh garlic to the potatoes provides savory aromatics with anti-inflammatory benefits too.
Cranberries, a low sugar fruit, are commonly found paired with many holiday flavors and offerings. Yet, it is difficult to find a cranberry sauce that is not loaded with added sugar, but no need to fear, you can easily make a better for you one at home. Vitamin E is found in cranberries which works as a powerful antioxidant supporting the immune system. To make a nutrient dense cranberry sauce for your family and friends combine 2 cups cranberries and 1 cup chopped cherries. Add in a few tablespoons of maple syrup and add lemon zest for some brightness. Heat ingredients in a sauce pan and allow to simmer for 15 minutes until ready.
Bacchetti T, Tullii D, Masciangelo S, et al. Effect of black and red cabbage on plasma carotenoid levels, lipid profile and oxidized low density lipoprotein. J Funct Foods. 2014;8:128-137.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.