Hidden Health Benefits of Your Favorite Holiday Foods

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on November 21, 2014
surprising health benefits of holiday foods
There are some surprisingly nutritious foods lurking on this plate. Photo by Thinkstock.

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


Fiber-rich Brussels sprouts are also great for boosting the immune system. Nix the bacon and fatty toppings for a healthier side dish. Photo by Thinkstock.com.

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


Spike your sweet potato dish with cinnamon for a one-two punch of antioxidants! Photo by Thinkstock.com.

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.

Cranberry sauce

cranberry sauce

Tart cranberry sauce is rich in manganese, a compound that helps fire up metabolism. Stick to a small spoonful, since most cranberry sauces are high in sugar. Photo by Thinkstock.com.


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.

Hot cocoa


Here’s some sweet news: hot cocoa can improve gut health, so take that as permission to sip away! Photo byThinkstock.com

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.

Cheese platter


Cheese lovers, opt for Parmesan over higher-fat cheeses like Brie and blue cheese; it’s lower in calories than most cheese varieties. Stick to a small serving ton ensure you don’t go overboard, though. Photo by Thinkstock.com.

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.

Pumpkin pie

Low Fat Pumpkin Pie

As far as pies go, pumpkin is your safest bet. It’s lower in calories than pecan and apple pie, and you’ll even get a dose of vitamin A and fiber from it!

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.

Spiced nuts


Steer clear of the fatty dips and munch on a handful of spiced roasted nuts. The healthy fat will fill you up, so you’re less likely to reach into the chip bowl.

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.

Boiled potatoes


Although they get a bad rap in the health world, potatoes are surprisingly nutritious—assuming they’re not drenched in butter, salt and cheese.

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.