You hear about how oh-so bad your favorite holiday foods are. Eggnog is packed with fat! Green bean casserole will clog your arteries. And don’t even think about wearing your skinny jeans until you put down the gingerbread. But, some of our classic holiday favorites are actually loaded with hidden health benefits. Here’s the scoop on eight:
Sauteed Brussels sprouts
These tiny veggies from the cabbage family are gaining in popularity—thanks to the fact that they’re often paired with crumbled bacon. Turns out, they also carry a chemical that’s essential in helping immune systems function optimally, says a 2011 study in the journal Cell. And you don’t want to get sick during the holiday season, right?
Cinnamon on anything
It’s no secret that holiday dinners are high-fat affairs. That can harm your heart because it raises triglyceride levels in your blood post-nosh. One way to counteract the effect: Add spices like cinnamon. Overweight who adults ate two tablespoons of spices (like cinnamon, Italian herbs, or curry) with a meal experienced 30 percent lower levels of triglycerides compared to a spice-free meal, finds Penn State research. Thank the spice’s high antioxidant levels for their heart-protecting benefits.
Spoon it over your turkey: these berries are an excellent source of manganese, a mineral that’s an important player in a healthy metabolism. A 2013 scientific review noted that cranberries contain compounds that may improve your cholesterol profile, lowering “bad” LDL levels and raising “good” HDL. Just go easy on the stuff since a lot of sugar is added to balance out the natural tartness of the berries. Stick to a two tablespoon serving of fresh or canned.
If you’re going to choose between an egg nog or cocoa, go for the chocolate. It’s been well established that chocolate promotes heart health, but scientists recently discovered a new finding: it improves your gut health. Turns out, chocolate “feeds” healthy bacteria in your stomach where its broken down into compounds that lower inflammation throughout your body, according to preliminary research from Louisiana State University. For a bigger disease-fighting boost, go for dark chocolate cocoa.
The ooey goodness gets a bad rap, but it can be done healthy. When faced with a cheese plate, go for Parmesan. One serving packs 10 grams of protein and one-third of the calcium you need in a day. That’s more than other cheeses like cheddar or Brie. Keep in mind it also has 110 calories—not bad until you eat several servings in one sitting (so easy to do). Stick with one or two crackers worth as an app, and then move onto the baby carrots.
Okay, it’s hard to argue that pie is good for you, but if you’re going to eat pie during the holidays, pumpkin isn’t bad. Per slice, it contains around 320 calories; compare that to pecan at 500. The splurge packs perks thanks to the pumpkin puree, which supplies a good source of calcium, iron, and more than twice the vitamin A you need in a day. Still, a slice contains a quarter of your saturated fat limit, so eat one, max.
Here’s to munching away. Eating a handful of nuts per week is suspected to be protective against weight gain, shows recent research from Loma Linda University. Nuts supply a healthy mix of good fats, protein, and fiber to keep you full. Eating a handful may even help you resist the crab dip.
Sadly, potatoes are shunned for being too high in carbs. But they offer so much nutrition. A half cup is only 70 calories, plus it supplies a good source of vitamins C and B6, both of which are involved in shoring up your immune system so you feel on top of your game this season. The trouble is, potatoes are usually paired with high-fat ingredients like cheese and cream. Keep things simple with boiled taters to reap the health boost without the waist-widening side effect.