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Picture a table set with roast turkey and all the trimmings. This mental image may conjure up visions of gluttony rather than good health and good nutrition. However, several traditional ingredients in holiday meals are indeed superfoods. Here is a sampling of five:
Roast turkey. Without the skin and gravy, the breast of this bird is one of the leanest protein foods, rating it as definitely a healthy choice. In fact, a three-ounce (palm-sized) serving provides 26 grams of protein in only 120 calories. That’s 8 percent more protein than the identical serving of boneless skinless chicken breast or trimmed top loin beefsteak.
What’s more, this same serving size provides only 1 gram of fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol and 50 milligrams of sodium, making it heart healthy.
There are a couple of additional benefits of this white meat. First, turkey contains several essential B vitamins, which aid in the body’s production of energy from food. Secondly, a three-ounce serving offers more than half of an entire day’s requirement of the mineral selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant nutrient that research has shown to have potent anti-aging and anti-cancer effects.
Cranberries. These tart little red berries usually make an appearance on the holiday table as cranberry sauce. One cup of chopped raw cranberries provides only 50 calories, plus one quarter of the daily recommended level of vitamin C. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant nutrient.
Add to this the phytonutrients in cranberries such as anthocyanins, and cranberries are considered a cancer preventative. In fact, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin earlier this year published a paper linking cranberries to positive effects against 17 types of cancer. Instead of sugar-laden cranberry sauce, try a fresh relish version. (In a blender or food processor, chop together 1 12-ounce bag of cranberries with 1 unpeeled orange.)
Sweet potatoes. Ever since the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked this deep orange-fleshed potato No. 1 in nutrients of all vegetables, consumption has increased dramatically on both sides of the Atlantic. One medium-sized sweet potato provides only 100 calories, but serves up one third of the daily requirement for vitamin C and a whopping 400-plus percent of vitamin A, in the form of orange-colored beta-carotene.
Sweet potatoes also have 4 grams of dietary fiber per serving, and this fiber can help reduce blood cholesterol by binding it and passing it out of the intestinal tract. Try serving baked or mashed sweet potatoes rather than those candied with brown sugar and marshmallows.
Broccoli. Swap that fat-laden green bean casserole with the earthy-tasting turkey side dish of roasted broccoli. This cruciferous vegetable is rich in antioxidants such as vitamins A and C as well as a phytonutrient called sulforaphane, a strong cancer fighter. Add a little chopped garlic to the broccoli when roasting. Not only does it add flavor, it also serves up substances than can lower blood pressure and increase HDL or the “good” cholesterol.
Nuts. The nutcracker, the culinary tool not the ballet, is a great tool for the holidays. Walnuts are a great source of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Almonds help this vital organ keep pumping, too, by helping to lower LDL or the “bad” cholesterol. Pistachios, like all nuts, are full of protein and fiber. Plus, one ounce of these green nuts provides nearly as much potassium as a banana.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.