Heart Healthy Holiday Foods

The natural health researchers at Institute for Vibrant Living (IVL) would like to thank Cindy Gray, Author of “The Spirit of Health” for contributing this report:


Happy Holidays!  Happy Heart Health?  Yes, thankfully both are possible.  Just think about what Americans usually eat for the holidays … and the average holiday meal can easily exceed 2,000 fat-laden calories.  But rather than focusing on what NOT to eat, (and feeling guilty) read on and learn about delicious foods and healthy ways to enjoy them…. foods that may already be on your shoppng list this year.


Let’s begin with pumpkins—beautiful on the outside and delicious on the inside too.  Loaded with vitamin A and teeming with fiber, pumpkin offers more than a seasonal decoration.  Low in calories and rich with the healthiest types of fat, enjoy pumpkin pie this year, but tailor it to fit in with a tasty, healthy lifestyle.  Instead of a pie made with eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, and a waist-expanding high-fat pie crust, consider using an egg substitute, light cream (or low-fat evaporated milk, or soy milk) in your recipe.  Avoid transfat in your pie crust, or make your own without shortening.  And don’t forget about natural sugar substitutes like stevia, honey, brown rice syrup or agave syrup.


Next on the list is cranberries, rich with vitamin C, naturally low in calories, coupled with dietary fiber and manganese.  Cranberries offer an abundance of proanthocyanidins, the type of antioxidant that helps keep bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract.  Skip the canned cranberry sauce and easily whip up a batch of your own.  Simply simmer fresh cranberries with a little orange juice and zest, sweeten with a natural sweetener, and top with mandarin oranges and chopped walnuts.  You can have seconds of this, and thirds too!


What about the simple sweet potato?  Often ignored until the holidays, when grandma baked a casserole laden with tons of brown sugar and marshmallows.  Yuk!  Sweet potato is a root veggie, and a rich source of antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene.  Loaded with potassium like the banana, but with a delicious, edible skin that provides the health benefits of fiber, making the sweet potato a healthy holiday food.  Try something different this year and cut them into wedges and roast them drizzled with olive oil and rosemary or your favorite fresh herbs.  Sweet potatoes are also delicious mashed with buttermilk, added to a harvest squash soup, or baked and served simply like a baked white potato.


What about good old-fashioned green beans?  While they may be one of the healthiest holiday foods out there, (and an excellent source of manganese, vitamins A, C, K, fiber, folate, iron and potassium), the traditional green bean casserole is high in calories and sodium.  Save this delicious dish by making a lower-fat version with fat-free cream of mushroom soup and a heart-healthy butter substitute.  For extra healthy flavor, cook some onions in olive oil first, add fresh mushrooms, and mix this into the recipe.


And finally, the turkey.  This beloved bird is an excellent source of protein, and provides the least amount of fat per serving, compared to other meats, if you pass on the skin.  And while you’re passing, try passing on the ham this year.  Ham is loaded with fat and is high in sodium, so make it easier to pass on this holiday season by not serving it at all. 


Remember during the holidays to think smart:  Start out your day with a healthy breakfast like oatmeal, yoghurt and fresh fruit—that way you’re not famished when you arrive at the party.  Eat plenty of fresh veggies, with a low-cal dip on the side.  If you partake at the party, drink a healthy glass of wine, even a wine spritzer to make the beverage last longer, top it off with fresh citrus for added taste and flair.  Feel confident with fresh breath at a party by brushing your teeth and flossing often—remember, dental plaque has been linked with cardiovascular disease, so keep ’em clean!  Eat smaller portions, and don’t buy into the holiday guilt trip that can drag you down in spirit. 


The holidays are a season of celebration and spending time with friends and family, so enjoy delicious foods and time with those you love!  These are just a few ideas for making your holiday heart-healthy and delicious.  The two can go hand in hand. 


Here’s to happy holidays and to your heart health!


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