Good choices: Antioxidant-rich foods for holiday health

Health holiday foods.

It’s easy during the holiday season to get caught up in the excitement and indulgence of delicious meals. But it’s still important to prioritize our health and make nutritious choices. One way to accomplish this is by incorporating antioxidant-rich foods into our holiday feasts.

Antioxidants are compounds that reduce inflammation and damage to the body caused by oxidation due to harmful molecules known as free radicals. 

“Antioxidants can be found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds,” said Shelby Yaceczko, RD, an advanced-practice dietitian at the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases. “These all are anti-inflammatory foods.”

Some of the more common antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, manganese, copper and zinc.

Discovering antioxidant holiday dishes

What antioxidant-rich foods might fit in nicely with traditional holiday fare? Here are some suggestions:

Colorful cranberries: No holiday table is complete without cranberries. These small, vibrant berries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins and vitamin C. Serve homemade cranberry sauce as a side dish or incorporate dried cranberries into stuffing or salads for a burst of tart flavor and health benefits. 

Glorious greens: Include nutrient-dense leafy greens like kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts in your holiday menu. These greens are packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, as well as minerals like iron and calcium. Sautéed kale or roasted Brussels sprouts make delicious and nutritious side dishes that will impress your guests.

Nutty delights: Walnuts, almonds and pecans are not only a delightful addition to holiday sides and desserts, but they also are a fantastic source of antioxidants and healthy fats. Sprinkle them over salads, incorporate them into stuffing recipes or roast them with a touch of honey and cinnamon for a satisfying snack.

Berry bliss: Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries offer a powerful punch of antioxidants. These colorful treats are packed with flavonoids and vitamin C, which boost immune function and promote overall well-being. Add berries to fruit salads, garnish desserts or create a refreshing berry compote to accompany main courses.

Wonderful winter squash: Winter squash varieties, including butternut squash and acorn squash, are abundant during the holiday season and are loaded with antioxidants and essential nutrients. Their vibrant orange flesh is a sign of the high beta-carotene content, which converts to vitamin A in the body. Roast them as a side dish, blend into creamy soups or incorporate them into casseroles for a comforting and healthy addition to your holiday spread.

Dark Chocolate Delicacies: Indulge your sweet tooth with a guilt-free treat this holiday season. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is a rich source of antioxidants, particularly flavonoids. Opt for dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids and enjoy a small piece or two to satisfy your cravings while reaping the health benefits.

Holiday spices you didn’t know were a good source of antioxidants

Yaceczko said there are certain seasonings that not only make foods flavorful, but also are high in antioxidants.

“Some other compounds that are really rich in antioxidants are going to be your herbs and spices. Think of things like Italian seasonings, black pepper, cinnamon or nutmeg. A lot of these really nice holiday spices can add a healthy spark to your cooking or to your dishes,” Yaceczko said.

These are just a few ideas to celebrate the holidays in a way that nourishes our bodies and promotes overall well-being. By incorporating antioxidant-rich foods into our Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, we can indulge in delicious meals while supporting our health. Get creative in the kitchen, experiment with these festive ingredients and savor the joy of a healthy and vibrant holiday season.

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