Take It In: by Carol Bareuther
Red and green are the key colors of the winter holidays. Fresh fruits and vegetables of either of these hues provide an abundance of disease-preventing nutrients that may be missing from festive fare such as baked goods, party foods and even big sit-down celebratory meals. Adding these colorful produce items to your diet is likely the best present you can give yourself. That’s because eating too little produce ranks among the top 10 risk factors for a shortened life span, according to the World Health Organization.
Red-hued foods, such as strawberries, watermelon, cherries, raspberries, apples, red peppers, red cabbage, and tomatoes, get their color from plant-based nutrients like lycopene and anthocyanins. These phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants that can protect against heart disease, some forms of cancer like prostate cancer, high blood pressure, stroke and the blinding eye ailment of macular degeneration. Red fruits and vegetables are also abundant in vitamins A and C and dietary fiber.
One of the most popular red fruits is strawberries. Florida supplies most of the nation’s fresh strawberries from December through March, with berries harvested in California the rest of the year. Eating one cup of fresh strawberries within two hours prior to a meal can aid in reducing post-meal blood sugar levels and inflammation, the latter of which can lead to the development of chronic illnesses. This is the take home message from U.S. scientists, who published their work last year in the journal Food and Function. The reason for this beneficial effect is that the anthocyanin in strawberries tends to peak in its activity one to two hours after consumption, thus working its wonders when eaten before a meal. Good ways to get this berry boost during the holidays is simply snacking on one cup, or about 8 fresh strawberries. Or, eat a small fruit salad with strawberries, raspberries and watermelon as an appetizer. Or, eat strawberries topped with low-fat Greek yogurt before going out to a party, big restaurant meal or buffet. The combination of high-fiber strawberries and satiety producing protein in the yogurt can make you feel full and thus not as susceptible to overeating.
Green-colored foods, such as broccoli, green peppers, lettuces, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green grapes and kiwi, get their hue from natural plant pigments such as chlorophyll, as well as phytonutrients such as cancer-preventing isothiocyanates. Green fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins A, C and K as well as minerals such as potassium.
Avocados are a green fruit that have proven to be especially healthful, and are abundantly available out of Mexico for the winter holidays. Unlike most other fruits, avocados contain a rich source of heart healthy monounsaturated fat. In 2015, U.S. researchers tested to see if it was the fat content in avocados or something else in the fruit in combination that proved to be heart-healthy by lowering blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Specifically, the researchers fed subjects one avocado daily. They did this by serving chicken salad in one-half of an avocado at lunch and a turkey taco with half an avocado for dinner. Control subjects were fed the same foods, but other monounsaturated fats like canola oil mayonnaise and sunflower oil were substituted for the avocado. Results showed that the healthy fat in avocados, in combination with this fruit’s dietary fiber and plant-based phytosterols, lowered LDL cholesterol most effectively. Put this fact in action during the holidays by trading butter for mashed avocado in turkey stuffing, add slices of avocado to salads or crudité platters, and even substitute half of the butter or oil in baked goods with mashed avocado. This especially works well in chocolate cakes and cupcakes.
So, this holiday season, eat strawberries before meals and substitute avocado for other dietary fats and you’ll be ready for a healthy new year.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.