Americans often overeat during the holiday season. Overindulging seems to be a national pass time in November and December.
If you feel the need to stuff your stomach, it's probably better to do it with foods that are healthier for you. The following is a list of ten of the healthiest and unhealthiest foods and drinks you may see over the next couple of weeks.
Green Beans and Turkey
Roasted Red Potatoes and Shrimp Cocktail
Nuts and Champagne
Pumpkin Pie and Dark Chocolate
Hot Chocolate and Red Wine
Prime Rib and Candied Sweet Potatoes
Peanut Brittle and Spinach Dip
Egg Nog and Pigs in a Blanket
Mashed Potatoes and Pecan Pie
White Russian and Peppermint White Mocha
(1) Green beans
Green beans are one of the healthiest foods you can eat during the holidays. They are a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, folate and iron.
One cup of fresh green beans provides 25% of the daily value a person needs of vitamin K - which is essential to prevent calcium loss in bones.
The best way to prepare beans for a holiday dinner is to boil or steam them and not cover them in butter which only adds fat and calories.
If you must make your favorite green bean casserole, prepare the dish using fat-free cream of mushroom soup, light butter and low-fat cheese. You will enjoy the same great taste without all the guilt.
The traditional food of Thanksgiving, turkey, is a food you should enjoy - with a caveat.
The health benefits of turkey cannot be denied. Just four ounces contains 32 grams of protein - 65% of the recommended daily value. Turkey also is a good source of selenium, niacin and vitamin B6.
When you do eat turkey, stick to skinless meat only. Half of the fat in turkey is located in the skin. Also, dark meat is higher in fat than light meat. And try not to drown it in gravy.
CONTINUED: Roasted red potatoes and shrimp cocktail
(3) Roasted red potatoes
Mashed potatoes or twice-baked stuffed potatoes are staples of many holiday dinners. Unfortunately, they have high fat & calorie contents as they're usually loaded with cream, butter or cheese.
Mashed potatoes can contain 300 or more calories and twice-baked varieties can contain 500 or more calories. You might want to loosen your belt with those numbers!
There is a way to enjoy the "spud" in a much healthier format - roasted red potatoes. Roasting is a cooking technique that better maximizes flavor-to-calorie ratio. Simply toss the potatoes with olive oil, sea salt, pepper and rosemary and roast in an oven for 400 degrees for thirty minutes.
A cup of roasted red potatoes only has about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat - numbers you can definitely live with.
(4) Shrimp Cocktail
You might be attending holiday parties and want to sample some appetizers. Go right ahead! Just stay away from the cookies, cheese balls and spinach dip and go for the shrimp cocktail.
A 3oz serving (which is about 12 shrimp) has just 80 calories and 18g of protein. Now, don't overindulge on them because shrimp are high in cholesterol - but that is offset by being very low in fat.
Cocktail sauce is also light in calories but high in sodium so keep your dipping to a minimum.
CONTINUED: Nuts and champagne
Instead of snacking on Christmas cookies, leftover pie or candy try a much healthier alternative - unsalted nuts.
In 2003 the FDA approved the following health claim for seven types of nuts:
"Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Vegetarians already know that nuts are one of the best sources of plant proteins. They are also rich in fiber, Vitamin E, and selenium.
Nuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsatured (omega3) fats - the good fats that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
The best nuts to eat are almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts - all have less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g. However, seeds such as flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds may offer the same health benefits.
Remember, moderation is the key. Try to limit your intake to one or two ounces of plain nuts a day.
You're going to want to toast the New Year in and the best drink to do it with is also the healthiest - champagne.
Don't worry, the bubbly is on this list not only because it is low in calories & sugars compared to other drinks (just 100 calories and 5g sugars in an 8oz serving), but because of results from medical studies.
The sparkling wine contains high amounts of natural, plant-based polyphenols, known antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent cell death due to oxidative stress.
Studies have also shown champagne may help protect the brain against injuries incurred during a stroke and other ailments, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
So you can keep raising your flute and drink to keeping your mind healthy in 2012!
CONTINUE: Pumpkin pie and dark chocolate
(7) Pumpkin Pie
Is there any dessert that reminds you more of the holidays than pumpkin pie? Probably not.
Pumpkin is rich in Vitamin A and is a good source of potassium and fiber. Pumpkin by itself is also low in calories. Pumpkin pie on the other hand is high in calories because it's made with eggs, sugar, milk and normally baked in a high-fat pie crust.
To get the good benefits of pumpkin without ruining your waistline, avoid store-bought pumpkin pies and make your own from scratch. For the filling use an egg substitute or egg whites, artificial sweeteners and skim milk. Then make your own healthier pie crust using a recipe like this one which uses whole wheat flour and no eggs.
As for a tasty topping, try a dollop of vanilla fat-free yogurt instead of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. The result will still be a yummy pumpkin pie - but without all the guilt.
Dark chocolate, and not white chocolate or milk chocolate, can be a healthy holiday snack in moderation.
A 2003 University of Cologne study shows eating dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure. However, you will need to balance the calories you get from dark chocolate by eating less of other foods.
The best dark chocolate to enjoy usually tastes the most bitter because it contains more cacao.
Cacao has a lot of flavanoids, powerful antioxidants, so look for dark chocolate with more cacao and less of 'other' ingredients on the label.
One thing you don't want to do is drink milk while enjoying dark chocolate. Findings by the German researchers indicate milk can interfere with the body's absorption of antioxidants, thus eliminating the benefits of your treat.
So go ahead, eat some dark chocolate once in a while but leave the milk for Santa.
CONTINUED: Hot chocolate and red wine
(9) Hot Chocolate
Just like dark chocolate, hot chocolate made with real cocoa can be a healthy drink compared to ones filled with sugar and topped with whipped cream.
Researchers at Cornell University found cocoa is full of the antioxidants that prevent cancer. In fact, cocoa has about twice the amount of antioxidants of red wine and three times the amount found in green tea. Making hot chocolate even more appealing is the heat releases more antioxidants than in a cold cocoa drink.
Use cocoa powder and hot water to make the healthiest homemade hot chocolate. If you must put something in your drink for added flavor, use skim milk instead of whole milk and artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.
Two things to stay away from: marshmellows, as they're mostly made out of sugar or corn syrup, and chain-store made hot chocolate because it can contain twice the calories of a homemade version.
(10) Red Wine
When you're enjoying a holiday dinner you might want to indulge yourself in an alcoholic beverage or two. Stay away from mixed drinks and choose vino. Specifically the red kind.
Red wine contains resveratrol and flavonoids, two different antioxidants that researchers believe raise HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) and prevent clotting and plaque formation in arteries.
Compared to other alcoholic drinks, red wine is also low in calories - just 98 in a four ounce serving. To cut your caloretic intake in half you can even make a red wine spritzer by mixing 2 ounces of red wine and 2 ounces of diet ginger ale. Just remember - don't drink and drive!
CONTINUED: The ten worst holiday foods.
(1) Prime Rib
Prime rib is a coveted cut of beef during the holiday season. It makes for an impressive looking dish, smells great coming out of the oven and tastes wonderful.
However, prime rib comes from one of the fattiest parts of the cow. That explains the thick areas of fat you have to slice around to get to the delicious meat.
A normal slice of prime rib can have up to 750 calories and 45g of fat. That's over a third of an average person's recommended daily caloric intake.
If you want to enjoy beef without all the fat, choose a beef tenderloin cut as an alternative. It is just as tasty as prime rib but contains only 165 calories and 7g of fat per serving.
(2) Candied Sweet Potatoes
Candied sweet potatoes (or candied yams) are a holiday favorite. A sweet potato is very healthy for you as it contains a good amount of potassium, vitamin C and fiber.
Pouring butter and sugar all over the sweet potatoes makes the good become bad.
Most time this dish contains salt, brown sugar, eggs, butter and various spices. A normal serving can contain over 400 calories, 55g of carbohydrates and 13g of fat.
Those numbers do not even include the normal marshmellow topping. Marshmellows are mostly spun sugar - so you can add more calories and sugar to your intake.
To make healthy sweet potatoes, keep them from drying out and you won't need to use as much syrup or marshmellows - they'll stay sweet without all the calories.
CONTINUED: Peanut brittle and spinach dip
(4) Spinach Dip
When you hear of spinach you probably think of Popeye and how good it is for you. Well, it normally is - but not here... because unfortunately this dip is often chock-full of heavy cream, mayonnaise, egg yolks, oil, MSG or cream cheese.
Five crackers and two tablespoons of the dip has about 230 calories, 18g of fat, 25mg of cholesterol and 400mg of sodium. And how often can you just eat two tablespoons of such a tasty potion?
If you want to dip your chip it is best to make it yourself. Do not buy a store-bought brand because they often contain preservatives. Use non-fat greek yogurt and lots of vegetables and you won't feel as bad eating your spinach.
CONTINUED: Egg nog and pigs in a blanket
(9) White Russian
Oh, how we all love tasty drinks that contain alcohol. A White Russian is no exception with vodka, cream and coffee liqueur.
Unfortunately, this beverage is very calorie-laden... to the tune of 715 calories for an 8 ounce drink.
The issue is the coffee liqueur is high in calories and the cream used is often heavy cream.
Stick to wine or else the pounds will start sticking to your waistline.
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