The key to getting essential nutrients, while avoiding the artery-clogging holiday dishes is to look for nutrient-dense foods — superfoods that have immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals.
RELATED: Healthy Habits For The Holidays
5 Nutrient-Dense Foods to Add to the Holiday Spread
What Are Superfoods?
Items on the superfoods list are packed with essential nutrients. They also leave out dietary pitfalls like saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, or simple sugars.
These nutrient-dense foods often provide more than a day’s supply of at least one antioxidant. What they all have in common is that they pack a nutritional punch, even in small portion sizes.
Nuts are nutrient-dense foods that can be utilized in almost any course during a holiday gathering. Set them out on the nibbles tray before dinner, toss them over fruit or green salads, add them to casseroles, or include them in baked bread, pies, and cookies.
Just about any nut has its place at the holiday table.
- Traditionally, sliced almonds are tossed with steamed green beans. This makes for a far healthier alternative to the sodium-packed, super-rich green bean casserole that’s normally topped with fried onions.
- Walnuts add texture as well as key nutrients when topping a sweet potato dish, or added to cranberry-nut bread.
- And while no one will claim pecan pie is a health food, the protein content in pecans does offset the carb-rich dessert a tiny bit!
In addition, don’t overlook the homemade or store-bought vegan alternatives to dairy that use nuts as their base. These include almond milk, nut cheese, and cashew whipped cream.
They’re still great sources of calcium.
As a group, nuts are a strong source of the “good” fats that we need, including Omega-3 fatty acids. These good fats are useful for fighting off factors that lead to heart disease, such as high cholesterol.
Nut varieties are also rich in Vitamin E and magnesium. For those cutting back on animal products, protein-rich nuts are a delicious alternative.
Just don’t “go nuts” on these superfoods. Nuts also contain some saturated fat. If including them in holiday dishes, either avoid adding them to the appetizer tray, or cut back on other fatty foods.
Turkey is the king of many holiday tables. It’s easy to use this nutrient-dense food for a healthy meal — if a few precautions are taken. Dark meat and turkey skin are the highest in fat.
When watching fat intake, skip the gravy, choose white meat and trim off the skin. If you’re the cook, go for a basting medium that’s broth-based, to further reduce the fat content.
Along with cooking a whole turkey, additional options include baked turkey breast, which is all white meat. For a New Year’s potluck, use up leftovers in the form of turkey hash or turkey-bean chili.
Turkey is a great source of lean protein. It’s also high in minerals and B-vitamins. Among those minerals, zinc provides immunity-boosting properties during the cold and flu season — which unfortunately coincides with the holidays.
People continue to mix up sweet potatoes with yams. When given the choice, go for sweet potatoes.
Not only are they more readily available in the US, but they have a nutritional edge over their paler “cousins.”
Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense foods in part because of their high Vitamin A content. This antioxidant nutrient boosts immunity and protects vision, among other benefits.
Sweet potatoes also offer high concentrations of iron and Vitamin C. In addition, they’re a complex carb — while starchy, the filling root vegetable also offers high amounts of fiber.
Each region seems to have its own favorite sweet potato recipe for the holiday table. Sweet potato pie is often an alternative to pumpkin pie in the south.
In other regions, a sweet potato casserole is a holiday staple. Instead of topping your casserole with traditional marshmallows, why not go with another member of the superfoods list — walnuts or pecans?
Mix the nuts with a bit of brown sugar and butter, and pour over sweet potatoes that have been mashed with egg yolks, spices, and some cream or almond milk. This gets baked for about half an hour.
Like many ingredients on the holiday superfoods list, pumpkin is a versatile food that works for starters, with the main course, in the bread basket, or as dessert.
Like sweet potatoes, pumpkin is a valuable source of vitamin A that exceeds the daily recommended amount. It’s also high in iron.
And, as a bonus, if using whole pumpkins, mineral-rich, high protein pumpkin seeds come with the package!
Use fresh or canned pumpkin in a rich soup to start the holiday meal, or as the classic pumpkin bread of harvest festivals. And don’t forget one of the most classic holiday dishes of them all – pumpkin pie.
When it comes to planning a somewhat healthy dessert, rejoice in the fact that dark chocolate is an actual superfood. This dessert ingredient is richer in antioxidants than even blueberries.
It’s also a great source of magnesium, iron, and other minerals.
For holiday recipes, choose dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa content. Use it to make cupcakes, brownies or a rich, chocolatey pie.
Alternatively, shave dark chocolate squares finely over fruit squares or cheesecake.
For ideas of more nutrient-dense foods you should be eating, watch this video from Health Wisdom:
So what happens when all the best intentions in the world slip away, and those superfoods filled with essential nutrients get neglected in favor of tempting empty-calorie treats? Or what if there aren’t any nutrient-dense foods at the party?
Take a deep breath and chalk it up to a cheat day. Tomorrow can always be used to refuel with superfoods, detoxing teas, and a brisk walk through the park!
What nutrient-dense foods on this list would you like to add to your diet? Share your thoughts about this superfoods list in the comments section below.