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During the holiday season, when the days are darker and the nights longer, we need all the comfort and cheer we can get. Spending time with family and friends is wonderful for our mental and emotional well-being. The foods and beverages that we reach for also play a major role in our sense of vitality and health at this time of year. It may be tempting at times to reach for items that are high in fat and sugar when the temperature drops, but these will leave you feeling even more tired and sluggish than before.
Luckily, at this time of year there is an abundance of seasonal produce available that provide us with a plethora of vitamins, minerals and good fats without comprising on taste and flavor. Adding these seasonal foods to your festive winter menu will help to keep you warm, full and happy!
Sweet potatoes are a holiday staple in the US, and are best eaten from November to December, when they are in season. They are native to Central and South America. In the US, sweet potatoes are mainly grown in the southern states, especially North Carolina. These delicious root vegetables are also super easy to prepare, and can simply be boiled, steamed or roasted in their skin. Sweet potatoes are one of nature’s best sources of vitamin A as Beta-Carotene. It is a good idea to consume them alongside some healthy fats, such as a drizzle of olive oil or some avocado, to aid beta -carotene absorption. Sweet potatoes are also chock-full of antioxidants, which help our bodies to fight free radicals and also protect our cells from oxidative stress. Phytonutrients in the brightly colored flesh of sweet potatoes also contain anti-inflammatory properties, helping to calm areas of inflammation in the body. The modern Western diet, high in acidic foods such as red meat and simple sugars, means that high bodily inflammation is a problem for, if not all, very many Americans. Sweet potatoes also contain many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, manganese, (an important component in energy production), copper, vitamins B1, B2 and B3, potassium and phosphorus.
In almost every café in Brooklyn this fall and winter, you can find the infamous pumpkin spice latte. Most commercial versions are loaded with sugar, cream and coffee, negating the health benefits of this super popular vegetable. The same goes for the classic pumpkin pie, which in most cases is high in sugar and fat. However, it is possible to indulge in healthier versions of these classics, as vegan or even raw versions. Making sure to include plenty of real pumpkin in your pie this holiday season, without an excess of simple sugar means that you will reap some of its amazing health benefits.
High in fiber and low in fat, pumpkins make a great low-calorie option for those who want to feel full without adding extra fat. Like sweet potatoes, the pumpkin’s orange hue means it is brimming with beta-carotene. Additionally, pumpkins also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help to protect eye health and integrity. Vitamin A is essential for optimal immune health and function, and also contributes to youthful skin appearance. The carotenoids in pumpkins also help to reduce inflammation and fight free radicals. Pumpkins are often paired with spices such as ginger and cinnamon- ginger can help to soothe an upset stomach and aid digestion, and some research has indicated that cinnamon may be helpful for blood sugar balancing.
Another popular product at this time of year is maple syrup. Many of us enjoy its sweet taste and in the US and Canada, it is a year-round staple, but especially around holiday season. We have all had it drizzled on top of a stack of pancakes, but did you know that maple syrup boasts some nutritional benefits that other sugars simply don’t? Maple syrup is made from the boiled-down sap of the maple tree and is native only to North America and Canada and was originally discovered and utilized by Native Americans.
Maple syrup is surprisingly rich in minerals, especially calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and selenium. It is also an excellent source of manganese, which is essential for healthy brain and nerve function. Unlike most sugars, maple syrup will not spike your blood sugaras dramatically as white table sugar. Maple syrup is closer to its whole food form than some sugars, which means it retains more of its nutritive value. It is important to use all sugars sparingly, but it is always nice to know that your sugar of choice is providing you with some vitamins and minerals as you indulge!
So there you have it- three seasonal and traditional holiday foods that are eaten in huge amounts every year in the US, and their health benefits. Remember that as you tuck in, you are doing your mind, body and soul some good by eating fresh, preferably organic whole foods in line with the seasons! Enjoy the holidays!
Categories: Tips & Advice