Seasonal, Heart-Healthy Holiday Foods

Updated:Feb 21,2014

Happy Family Eating Healthy Holiday DinnerDeck the halls, but don’t ditch your diet! Stay heart-healthy with seasonal, healthy foods.

For many, the holidays are the most wonderful — and least heart-healthy — time of the year.
Grandma’s fudge is a sentimental favorite, and the neighbor’s cake balls are a decadent habit. Indulging a little won’t hurt — but planning ahead will make for merry meals that are healthy too.

Do you decorate for the holidays with a lot of color? Treat your dinner plate the same way.

“Half of a meal should comprise fruits and vegetables that consist of a variety of colors,” said Vilma Andari, president and founder of NutraHealthFood and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. “The other two quarters should be whole grains and healthy proteins.”
 
Make your holiday meals festive and healthy with a variety of richly colored fruits and vegetables — and don’t forget the herbs and spices. “Try to work fruits and veggies into everything from soups and stews to casseroles instead of just side dishes,” Andari said. 

Sweet potatoes
“Nothing spells ‘fall’ like a deep orange-yellow colored food packed with antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta carotene,” Andari said. “Beta carotene can be converted into Vitamin A in the body to help support a healthy immune system and promote bone growth.”

Sweet potatoes are also high in fiber and vitamin B-6, as well as potassium, which plays a role in decreasing blood pressure.

Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., the Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont and an AHA spokeswoman, is a fan of them too. “Sweet potatoes are a nutrient bonanza,” she said. “Roast them with a little drizzle of maple syrup for the holidays.”

Need more seasonal vegetables that are packed with beta carotene? Try acorn squash, pumpkin and winter squash.

Brussels sprouts
Don’t put Brussels sprouts on your “naughty” list. Go green with this multilayered, cruciferous vegetable, which is low-calorie and fiber-filled. Four Brussels sprouts contain just 40 calories, 3 grams of dietary fiber and 2 grams of protein.  They’re also packed with Vitamin C and are a good source of folic acid, Andari said. 

To spice up those sprouts for the holidays, dust them with brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Microwave for 5 minutes and serve hot. Other cruciferous or dark-green leafy fall vegetables to try: broccoli, collard greens, kale and cauliflower.

Apples
In a recent study in Dutch men and women, researchers found that eating a large quantity of fruits (apples, pears, bananas) and vegetables  (onions, cabbage) with white flesh may protect against the incidence of stroke.

Apples also help prevent LDL “bad” cholesterol from causing the buildup of plaque in the arteries because of their fiber content. But how do you make them festive for the yuletide season? Try this Baked Apple Frittata. (It’s yummy, it’s healthy and it’ll make your kitchen smell good!) 

Go nuts
“Roasted, unsalted nuts of all kinds are great as appetizers and gifts during the holidays,” Johnson said. “Just remember that they’re high in calories, so limit yourself to a small handful.”

Dry-roasted almonds are a great addition to many holiday dishes. Lemon Green Beans with Parsley and Almonds is one to try. 

Salmon
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week. Need a special holiday meal where fish is the star? Try salmon with cilantro pesto.

Additional varieties to include on your weekly menu include: Mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, which also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
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Rachel Johnson offers these top 5 tips for adding some fa-la-la to your plate:

  1. Need a “power vegetable?” Try winter squash — roasted, baked or steamed.
  2. Roasted fall vegetables add a festive touch to the table. Think about Brussels sprouts, carrots and turnips.
  3. Don’t forget about baked, poached or roasted fall fruits. Try apples and pears and even apricots, peaches and plums.
  4. An occasional serving of lean red meat like pork tenderloin and beef tenderloin makes a sumptuous meal.
  5. Keep your holiday cookies heart-healthy by using whole grains like oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts as prime ingredients. And bake with heart-healthy fats like canola oil rather than butter.

Add sparkling seltzer water to cranberry or pomegranate juice for a festive, low-calorie drink.

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