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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Holidays


Holiday eating for your health

Janet Hackert, Northwest Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


During the holidays, food is a focal point. Foods such as pomegranates, cranberries, pumpkin, turkey and potatoes taste good and have many health benefits. Every food can fit into a healthy lifestyle and once you know the benefits of your favorites, you can enjoy your holiday feast even more.


Pomegranates are in season during the fall through December. They are picked ripe and can be eaten as soon as you get them home. The juicy seeds inside the fruit are delicious. Once the fruit is peeled, the juicy seeds seem to glow like bright ruby-red jewels, adding a festive look to holiday meals.


This bright red fruit is rich in antioxidants. In fact, pomegranate juice has three times the antioxidant activity of red wine or green tea. These antioxidants may promote heart health by decreasing factors that cause plaque buildup in the arteries.


To avoid the stains of pomegranate juice, work under water. Fill a large bowl with water, hold the pomegranate under the water and cut off the crown. Lightly cut through the skin and break it open. Inside are the seeds surrounded by sacks of juice. Remove the white pith and enjoy the seeds.


Cranberries are also packed with antioxidants that may help maintain heart health and reduce cholesterol. In addition, the tannins in cranberries help prevent urinary tract infections and may help reduce the risk of gum disease. Tannins prevent bacteria from adhering or sticking to the walls of the urinary tract and gum line. Tannins may also help prevent cold sores and stomach ulcers.


To add cranberries to your diet other than by cranberry sauce, try baking cranberry nut bread, sprinkle dried cranberries on salads or include them in trail mix. Or try baked salmon topped with a honey-dijon cranberry sauce this holiday season.


Cranberries and pomegranates can also be used to decorate your home during the holidays. Whole pomegranates can be used as a decorative holiday accent. Be creative; use them as part of a tablescape, grouped together on your mantel or as part of a wreath. Cranberries and popcorn can be strung together and used to decorate a Christmas tree or down a staircase. Try placing cranberries in a glass bowl with water and place a floating candle in the container. You’re only limited by your imagination and creativity.


Turkeys are the prominent holiday icons, and they can be a low-fat addition to your table. When selecting a turkey, keep in mind that self-basting varieties are higher in fat because they are injected with fat, which helps keep the meat moist. Instead, either baste the turkey yourself in broth, juice or juices from the turkey, or roast the bird breast-side-up to make it moister. Enjoy your holiday turkey, knowing it’s probably a low-fat option, but don’t blame turkey for being tired after the meal. The carbohydrates and increased blood flow away from your brain to your stomach are the more likely causes of feeling tired after eating.


Another traditional holiday food is pumpkin. With nutrients such as vitamins A and C and photochemicals like lycopene, an antioxidant linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, pumpkin packs a powerful nutritional punch. And don’t forget pumpkin seeds. They are also full of nutrients, containing protein, fiber and the immune-boosting mineral, zinc. You may not have needed another reason to enjoy pumpkin pie, but did you know it contains fewer calories than most other pies?


Although potatoes are not necessarily eaten only during the holidays, many people will eat potatoes this season. Regardless of how you enjoy your potatoes — mashed, baked or boiled — be sure to include the skin. Eating the skin provides more nutrients and fiber as well as adding color and texture. Potatoes are naturally fat-free and cholesterol-free and low in calories. But be careful of added toppings or ingredients. Choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, sour cream or butter when creating your potato side dishes will help keep this naturally fat-free and cholesterol-free side dish low in calories.


Now that you know how healthy the holiday meal can be, take the time to enjoy your food and the company you have this holiday season.



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Last update: Monday, November 15, 2010