Usually, “nutrition” and “holidays” are about as common in the same sentence as “New Year’s Resolutions” and “Super Bowl Sunday,” right?
While holidays are typically synonymous with overeating, overdrinking, and all sorts of rich, gooey goodies, it’s also a time of year that we bring out some seasonal nutritional superstars in our favorite family dishes.
And some of these foods actually make for smart additions to your diet year-round (or at least for as long as their season lasts).
Superfoods are nutrient powerhouses that pack a punch full of vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants that support our best health. Start off 2013 right and make sure these holiday superfoods make it into your grocery cart long after the last family member has left town.
Seasonal Superfood: Cranberries
Why to Keep It in 2013: As the New Year comes in, fresh cranberries will roll out – so grab these red fruits while they’re still available, then pop them in your freezer. This superfruit is much more than a sauce to serve alongside the turkey. Cranberries contain powerful nutrients called PACs (proanythocyanidins) that research suggests play a role in helping to maintain the health of the urinary tract, bones, teeth and immune system. These PACs are also responsible for cranberry’s signature tart taste. A growing body of evidence suggests that cranberries may also play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
You need just a quarter-cup of fresh cranberries to reap the benefits – a serving that is a scant 12 calories.
- Fresh cranberries are only available until the end of December, so buy and store in the freezer to have year-round to add to muffins and baked goods.
- Serve cranberry sauce (with as little sugar as possible) along grilled chicken or pork loin throughout the winter.
- Slather homemade cranberry relish on a turkey or chicken sandwich on whole grain bread – it makes a delightfully tangy, healthy swap for mayo.
Seasonal Superfood: Brussels Sprouts
Why to Keep It in 2013: First widely cultivated in Belgium (hence the name Brussels, the capital of Belgium), Brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family – one of the powerhouses of the plant kingdom known as cruciferous vegetables. While many people shun Brussels sprouts after the holidays end and opt for broccoli instead, the reason this superfood deserves a regular role on your plate is that Brussels sprouts contain one of nature’s most powerful cancer-fighting, free-radical squelching, DNA-protecting compounds called glucosinolates.
One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, and has a whopping 4 grams of fiber, all for just 20 calories. (Tip: It’s important not to overcook them, as that’s when their potentially off-putting sulfur smell will emerge.)
- Roasting always brings out the sweet flavor of vegetables. Try tossing Brussels sprouts with a small amount of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 400°F for 35-45 minutes.
- Raw Brussels sprouts also make a great salad addition. Try shredding them to add zing and bulk to your favorite salad. Or make them into a salad on their own, and add a simple vinaigrette, tossed with some nuts and dried fruit.
Seasonal Superfood: Sweet Potato
Why to Keep It in 2013: If you look past the gooey marshmallow and brown sugar that’s typically heaped on sweet potato holiday dishes, there’s a goldmine of good nutrition. Sweet potatoes are one of the most naturally sweet, nutrient-rich starchy vegetables there is. I also love it because it’s one of the most affordable foods in the grocery store. While actually not related to the potato (sweet potatoes are a member of the morning glory family), one medium sweet potato is a rich source of fiber, potassium, and beta-carotene – a powerful antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A.
- Sweet potato fries: Cut sweet potatoes into ½-inch to ¾-inch fries, lightly brush or spray with canola or olive oil, and bake in the oven at 400°F for 30 minutes. Leave the skin on for a nice chewy texture and added fiber.
- Baked sweet potatoes: Stick a clean whole sweet potato with a fork several times, and bake at 350°F for one hour or until soft. Purée into soup, enjoy sliced in the morning next to a scrambled egg, or chop into your salad at lunchtime.
Seasonal Superfood: Pecans
Why to Keep It in 2013: Did you know that pecans contain the highest antioxidant levels of any nut? While these nuts are a star ingredient in holiday baking, they deserve a place in your pantry year-round thanks to their nutritional benefits: A handful (1 ounce) of pecans packs 19 vitamins and minerals (including vitamin E, zinc and potassium) for just 196 calories. And pecans can help give your meals and snacks staying power; 1 ounce of pecans provides 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of filling fiber, as well as heart-healthy fats.
- Sprinkle a handful of pecans onto your salad. Pecans make a nutrient-rich, crunchy alternative to croutons.
- Savor crunchy “fried” chicken flavor without frying. Mix finely chopped pecans with breadcrumbs to coat your chicken (dipped in egg white), and then bake.
- Nibble on 1 ounce of pecans and a piece of your favorite fresh fruit for a satisfying snack.