By Dr. Jack Rutherford
RICHMOND — Often you hear about what foods not to eat during the holidays. But there are many traditional holiday foods that contain many health benefits. This holiday season, try these superfoods to actually enhance your health.
1. Sweet potatoes. One of the most nutrient-rich foods, sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins A, C and E and contain just 100 calories in a 4-ounce serving. Typically served baked or mashed, go light on the marshmallows or brown sugar when making a sweet potato casserole.
2. Turkey. The staple of most Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, this lean protein is a good source of several important vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus and zinc. And don’t forget the amino acid tryptophan, which helps the body make serotonin which aids in restful sleep. A 3-ounce portion contains only 135 calories.
3. Butternut squash. This nutritional all-star bursts with nutrients such as beta-carotene, B-vitamins, iron and magnesium. It has been shown to have protective effects against cancer and heart disease. One cup of baked squash contains just 80 calories and almost 7 grams of fiber.
4. Onions. A popular flavor booster for many dishes, onions contain high amounts of flavonols, compounds that help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Research also suggests that onions help lower age-related degenerative diseases and certain cancers.
5. Garlic. Known for centuries as natural medicine to prevent a number of diseases, garlic is now being touted for its heart-healthy properties. The flavorful herb can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels and assist in blood clotting. Chopping garlic finely releases allinase, an enzyme that helps form cancer-protecting compounds. It’s best to let crushed garlic stand for 10 minutes after chopping to prevent total loss of its anti-carcinogenic activity, then add to heat.
6. Brussels sprouts. One of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, these cruciferous vegetables that look like mini cabbages are loaded with vitamins, potassium and fiber. They are known to protect against certain types of cancer.
7. Nutmeg. This flavorful spice has antimicrobial properties that can help prevent tooth decay. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that protect against UV radiation and the signs of aging.
8. Apples. A good mid-afternoon snack, apples have just 95 calories and 4 grams of fiber to stave off hunger. Much of the fiber is in the peel so be sure to eat the apple with the skin on. Apples also contain flavonols, which help prevent bad cholesterol from forming. Serving baked apples with a little cinnamon instead of traditional apple pie will cut down on fat, sugar and calories.
9. Cranberries. This powerful antioxidant source boasts 5 grams of fiber per cup and supplies one-quarter of your daily vitamin C need. Cranberries are believed to protect against urinary tract disease, certain cancers and heart disease.
10. Pomegranate. The polyphenols and anthocyanins in pomegranate have associations with better heart and bone health, post-exercise muscle recovery, and anti-cancer properties. Try them fresh or as fruit juice.
11. Nuts. A traditional holiday appetizer, nuts have numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, reduced risk of certain cancers, and lower risk of obesity. The American Heart Association recommends at least four servings of nuts a week for optimal health benefits.
12. Dark chocolate. Good news for chocoholics. Dark chocolate (and cocoa powder) can provide a healthy finish to your holiday feast. They are rich in antoxidants and phytochemicals that produce heart-protective effects. They also contain flavonols which can elevate mood and reduce neurological decline. The darker the chocolate the better as the higher the percentage of cacao, the more polyphenols will be in the chocolate.