6 Holiday Foods That Are Actually Nutritious
Your Old Favorite: The kind made with a loaf (or two) of white bread
The Healthier Option: Stuffing that has wild rice or whole grain bread instead. "Stuffing can absolutely be nutritious if it's made with the right ingredients," says Sara Haas, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who notes that she's seeing more recipes that use wild rice and rustic, heartier breads than in the past.
The Nutrients You Get: Lots of filling fiber, which will help keep you from attacking the desert tray, and sustained energy, since these higher-fiber options don't lead to the same blood-sugar spike, then crash, that refined carbohydrates do. Wild rice is also surprisingly high in protein, with 3/4 cup offering almost 5 grams. If there are add-ins like cranberries and walnuts in the stuffing, you'll get antioxidants and healthy fats too.
Your Old Favorite: Creamed anything or canned-soup-laden veggie casseroles
The Healthier Option: Brussels sprouts where the sprouts are roasted or sautéed. Haas often brings her own sprout salad to holiday parties so if all else fails and there's nothing nutritionally redeeming to eat, she can just enjoy her own dish. This roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon recipe is a good option. Or try the classic holiday side of green beans–just not in their usual soupy, crispy-onion-topped casserole form. Instead, go simple and fresh, like this green beans with goat cheese and fresh lemon vinaigrette recipe.
The Nutrients You Get: Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin C (one cup has more than 100 percent of your daily recommended intake) and a good source of fiber, with 1 cup giving you more than 4 grams. Green beans are good for strong bones–just 10 of them provide 25 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin K, which your body needs in order to use calcium to build bones.
Photo: Joe Biafore/istockphoto
Your Old Favorite: Honey-glazed, smoked or country ham, i.e., super-sugary or -salty ham.
The Healthier Option: If ham is what's being served, it's not the worst thing in the world (that would be deep-fried turkey, in case you were wondering), since it still offers a decent amount of protein. Turkey (depending on its cooking method) is the best option, though, says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of the New York Nutrition Group. "The simpler the better when it comes to preparation," she says. "Roasted or baked–those are best." Brisket is also a good choice, but beware how fatty your cut is.
The Nutrients You Get: Three ounces of turkey breast, no skin, has more than 25 grams of protein, 71 percent of your daily intake of vitamin B3 and almost 30 percent of your daily intake of bone-building phosphorous. The same amount of brisket (trimmed down to 1/8-inch of fat) has more than 24 grams of protein, a little more than 10 percent of your daily iron needs and nearly 75 percent of your daily zinc intake.
Turkey and brisket are also incredibly low in sodium compared to ham, with 84 mg in 3 ounces of turkey, 42 mg in the same amount of brisket and a whopping 890 in the same amount of hickory-smoked ham. (That's almost 2/3 the amount of sodium the American Heart Association advises for an entire day.)
Your Old Favorite:: Ones that are covered in sugar or oil-roasted
The Healthier Option: Raw or dry-roasted nuts where the only toppings (if any) are herbs or spices–and no, the cinnamon in cinnamon-sugar nuts does not count.
The Nutrients You Get: All nuts are good for you in moderate amounts (remember, they're high in calories), but you do get slightly different amounts of nutrients depending on the nut. Ounce for ounce, almonds offer the most protein, at 6 grams, followed closely by pistachios with 5.8 grams, and these two are also the highest-fiber nuts. For healthy unsaturated fats, go for walnuts (13.4 grams), but steer clear of Brazil nuts, which have the most saturated fat, at 4.3 grams per ounce. (Macadamia nuts are a little tricky, because while they're high in unsaturated fats, they're also high in the saturated kind.) Meanwhile, hazelnuts offer the most folate, too-low levels of which have been linked to depression.
Your Old Favorite: Shrimp with a hefty dose of cocktail sauce
The Healthier Option: Keep the shrimp, lose the sauce (just 1/4 cup has 7 grams of sugar), and add some oysters while you're at it.
The Nutrients You Get: Seafood is generally high in protein and low in calories, and mollusks and crustaceans in particular are good sources of minerals like zinc, copper, iron and magnesium. Down a half-dozen oysters and you'll get more than 4 grams of protein, more than three days' worth of zinc, and 1/3 of your daily iron intake–all for just 50 calories. A half-cup of shrimp has even more protein, at 11 grams, along with high amounts of selenium and vitamin B12.
Your Old Favorite: Cookies, cakes and, of course, pecan pie (if you can't get through the holiday season without a slice of it, just do as Haas suggests and eat half a normal slice, which should be about 1/16 of the pie rather than 1/8).
The Healthier Option: We're not kidding ourselves here–aside from a bowl of seasonal fruit, it's hard to put a "healthy" label on any holiday dessert. Pumpkin pie, however, is a better option than anything else on the dessert table, says Haas.
The Nutrients You Get: Unlike other fillings, pumpkin pie's offers some vitamins and minerals (including hefty amounts of vitamin A), and, depending on how it's made, it likely has less sugar than other desserts.