6 Holiday Favorites With Hidden Health Benefits

The popular belief is that the holidays pretty much screw up our diets. All the yummy fattening foods are sometimes too hard to resist! But to our pleasant surprise, we thought wrong. Dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health shares with us the six holiday foods that we can all indulge in!

POPSUGAR Photography | Nicole Perry

Holiday meals don't need to destroy your diet. In fact, there are many traditional holiday foods — from turkey and cranberries to dark chocolate and wine — that have surprising health benefits. Here are six holiday favorites to enjoy guilt-free!


Worried about weight gain this holiday season? Reach for the season's favorite fruit — apples. Versatile, portable, and delicious, apples can be one of your secret weight-loss weapons. Here's proof: researchers from the State University of Rio de Janeiro found that women who ate an apple (or pear) before each of their main meals lost more weight on a low-calorie diet than women who didn't add fruit to their diet.

Part of the reason may be that apples are a great source of hunger-fighting fiber. A medium-sized apple has just 100 calories and 4.5 grams of fiber.

For a holiday dessert that will impress your guests, try this apple raisin crumble.

Be sure to keep all your holiday desserts waistline-friendly by baking with canola oil. Not only is it among the lowest plant-based oils in saturated fat, but a recent study also revealed that subjects who used canola oil as their primary fat reduced their belly fat by 1.6 percent, most likely due to the low saturated fat and high monounsaturated fat.

Bread Stuffing

For many (like me!), Thanksgiving dinner isn't complete without stuffing. And research suggests stuffing yourself with stuffing may actually have some surprising health benefits, thanks to the main ingredient — breadcrumbs.

According to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, breadcrumbs are rich in an antioxidant, pronyl-lysine, that has anticancer properties. The researchers reported that breadcrumbs had about eight times more pronyl-lysine compared to the softer, inner parts of loaf. What's more, it's thought to be concentrated in even higher amounts when you cut bread into smaller pieces and brown in the oven, as when you make stuffing.

Most recipes call for white bread, but you can make stuffing from a blend of white and whole-grain bread or whole-grain bread exclusively. Breads provide 80-100 calories per slice and pack in more than 15 different vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Looking for ways to keep your stuffing slim? Cut back on the butter your recipe calls for, boost the antioxidant-packed rosemary, and bake stuffing outside of the bird (that will not only shave calories, but it also reduces the risk of food-borne illness).

Dark Chocolate (and Unsweetened Cocoa or Cacao)

There's good news for chocoholics! Dark chocolate, hot cocoa, or a delicious dessert made with cocoa (cacao) powder can be a healthy, antioxidant-packed finish to your holiday feast. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are rich in phytochemicals that provide heart-health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and reducing risk for heart attack and stroke. What's more, research also reveals that flavanols can help keep you sharp as you age and improve your mood, and a recent study found that after drinking a flavanol-rich beverage, subjects could focus better and were more likely to answer math questions correctly.

Since all dark chocolate is not created equal, look for options with the highest cacao levels, as they should contain more of the beneficial flavanols. And be sure to choose cocoa powder that has not undergone "Dutch" processing. Look for dessert recipes that call for fruits and dark chocolate — a dynamic duo for your health. For a healthy holiday dessert, try fresh strawberries (or mixed berries) with a dark-chocolate-based dip or sauce.


Nuts are a favorite holiday snack, especially when the annual Thanksgiving football games are on TV. Pistachios are a top pick because they boast heart-healthy fats and hunger-tackling protein and fiber. One of the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie snack nuts, in-shell pistachios are the skinny nut because you can enjoy more of them (49 per ounce) compared to most other snack nuts.

What's more, pistachios are a "mindful" snack. In-shell pistachios take longer to eat, encouraging you to slow down, and the leftover shells can potentially make you more aware of how much you've eaten.

Enjoy them as a snack on their own, or try this spicy roasted squash with pistachios side dish.


The deep ruby color of fresh pomegranates not only makes a holiday table look gorgeous, but they're also a true seasonal superfood. Known for their delicious, sweet-tart taste, pomegranates are loaded with good nutrition. At about 100 calories for four to five ounces, pomegranate seeds (known as arils) are a good source of fiber and vitamin C. They also contain powerful antioxidants — including punicalagin, a compound unique to pomegranates and anthocyanin, which is responsible for giving pomegranates their red color. These seasonal gems are at peak quality from October to January, so now is the time to enjoy.

Confused about what to do with pomegranates? Their sweet-tart taste and crunchy texture make them ideal for snacking, entrées, side dishes, and desserts. For a colorful twist on a traditional holiday favorite, try this pomegranate-brussels sprouts side dish.


If you thought pumpkins were only for carving, think again! While the large varieties sold for Halloween have little flavor, the smaller, "sweet" pumpkins also known as pie or sugar pumpkins are perfect for cooking — from pies, cakes, and tarts to risotto, soups, and stews. One cup of cooked pureed or mashed pumpkin provides about 50 calories, two grams protein, and three grams fiber and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Pumpkins provide vitamin C, iron, zinc, and potassium and are among the best sources of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and several other carotenoids.

Most people fail to get enough deep orange veggies in their diet, so pumpkin should be a seasonal staple in your kitchen. The dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of getting five to six servings a week of red or orange veggies for their anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and heart-health benefits.

For a tasty and healthy start to your day, try these mini pumpkin muffins.