December 2012 Issue

Traditional Holiday Foods — Tell Clients They Still Can Enjoy the Foods They Love and Keep Their Meals Nutritious
By Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 14 No. 12 P. 20

The holiday season should be a joyous time of the year, but for those who want to continue eating healthfully or must adhere to dietary restrictions, it can be a time of great trepidation.

Baking the grandchildren’s favorite cookies, Aunt Kay’s silky smooth red velvet cake, or Dad’s “gotta have it” cornbread stuffing with pork sausage can throw even the most faithful healthy eaters off track.

But dietitians know that sticking to a healthful lifestyle doesn’t have to mean deprivation—not if you take the right approach. That’s the message clients need to hear during this festive season. After all, depriving oneself of special holiday foods or feeling guilty after eating them isn’t part of a healthful eating strategy. What matters is how consistently clients attempt to reach their goals, not how perfectly they meet them every moment of every day.

This year, rather than give clients an outdated list of dos and don’ts, recommend they relax and accentuate the positive health aspects of their favorite holiday foods.

Studies show humor is a great tool for coping with stress during this time of year. So before discussing the foods clients can eat, why not add a little levity? Mary Ann Hodorowicz, RD, CDE, MBA, a certified endocrinology coder with a corporate private practice in Palos Heights, Illinois, wrote a collection of lighthearted poems about some of the most common ingredients most everyone enjoys during the holidays. Following each poem is a synopsis of the food’s history, a discussion about its nutrient content, and lessons on how to buy and store it. Also included are three recipes created by Richard A. Amster, assistant professor and chef instructor at Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts Center in Riverhead, New York. Each recipe is chock-full of healthful ingredients that have been tested for deliciousness, too.

Apples
Sliced, diced, baked, and stewed,
apples know their way around the kitchen!
So nutritious, this versatile food,
one crisp bite, and you’ll be smitten!
— MAH

The apple tree, which has its origins in Eastern Europe and southwestern Asia, can be found in the temperate regions of North America. Many types of apples were cultivated over the centuries, bringing the total to 7,000 varieties available in the market today.

Apples vary widely in sweetness and tartness depending on the variety. Golden and Red Delicious apples are mild and sweet, while Pippins and Granny Smiths tend to be tart and brisk. Tart apples retain their texture during cooking and are used most often for desserts such as apple pie. Delicious, Braeburn, and Fuji apples usually are eaten raw.1

Health Bonus
Research findings are in agreement with the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are full of antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavonoids, and vitamin C, and are a good source of fiber and potassium. Numerous studies show an association between apples’ high antioxidant activity and a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and asthma.2

It’s best to eat apples rather than drink apple juice. Whole apples are richer in dietary fiber than juice, and the juicing process drastically reduces the amount of polyphenols found in the whole fruit.2

How to Buy and Store
Apple season begins at the end of summer and lasts until early winter. As with all fresh produce, suggest clients buy apples locally and in season. When purchasing, look for firm, shiny, smooth-skinned apples with rich coloring and intact stems. Yellow and green apples with a slight blush are best.

To ensure quality and good taste, refrigerate them in a plastic bag away from foods with a strong odor, and use them within three weeks.3

Holiday Tips
• Remove the crust on the top and/or bottom of an apple pie slice to reduce calorie intake.

• Instead of using piecrust, place the apples and other pie ingredients in a small ramekin and then bake and enjoy.

• Bake cored apples, stuff them with fresh cranberry relish, and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

• Prepare a Waldorf salad with diced apples.

Cranberries
Cranberries, red, ripe, and round,
but sweetness they do lack.
In many recipes lots of sugar is found,
but add just a touch, so we don’t get fat!
— MAH

Cranberries are native to the United States and Canada. Traditionally, Native Americans used cranberries as food, in ceremonies, and medicinally. The first commercial cranberry beds were planted in 1816. Today cranberries are farmed on approximately 40,000 acres across the northern United States and Canada.4

Health Bonus
Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin E. They’re a potent source of flavonoids, called proanthocyanidins, which prevent E coli from adhering to the cells lining the urinary tract and, in turn, may avert urinary tract infections. This same effect may help prevent the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) from causing gastric ulcers. According to the American Cancer Society, H pylori also are a major risk factor for stomach cancer.

The antioxidant properties of proanthocyanidins also may support cardiovascular health.5

How to Buy and Store
Cranberries are harvested between Labor Day and Halloween and can be found in markets from September through December. Choose fresh, plump cranberries, deep red in color and firm to the touch. Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months or in the freezer for up to one year.6

 Holiday Tips
• Make cranberry relish using fresh, whole cranberries instead of canned jellied cranberry sauce, which is loaded with added sugar.

• Limit the serving size of canned jellied cranberry sauce. A 1/4-cup serving can set you back at least 100 kcal.

• Boost the nutritional content of muffins with dried cranberries, and try Amster’s corn muffin recipe below. It’s an antioxidant powerhouse.

Pumpkin
Pumpkin bread, cake, and cookies,
holiday baking is so much fun!
Carving pumpkins … it’s not for the rookie,
but sweet desserts? Can’t wait ‘til they’re done!
— MAH

The pumpkin is indigenous to North America. Although closely associated with Halloween, this versatile gourd is eaten as a vegetable; used in salads, soups, and pies; and made into preserves, while the seeds are roasted and salted for snacks.7

Health Bonus
Pumpkins are loaded with beta-carotene, one of the most abundant plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. Research indicates a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and offer protection against heart disease6 and some degenerative aspects of aging.8

How to Buy and Store
When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, choose what’s called a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin.” These varieties are smaller than their jack-o’-lantern counterparts, and their flesh is sweeter and less watery. If the smaller pumpkins aren’t available, you can substitute the larger ones with fairly good results.

Buy pumpkins with at least a 1- to 2-inch stem, which will prevent the pumpkin from rapidly decaying. Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots, and choose ones that are firm to the touch and feel heavy for their size.8 Store pumpkins in a cool, dark place up to two months.9

Holiday Tips
• Instead of pumpkin pie, enjoy Amster’s recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Yogurt (see below). Clients can use canned or fresh pumpkin purée for this recipe. To make fresh pumpkin purée, use 1 lb of raw untrimmed pumpkin for each cup of canned purée pumpkin.8

• If pumpkin pie is still on the menu, reduce its calorie content by using an egg substitute and evaporated milk for the filling or simply choose a smaller slice.

Figs
Figs in a recipe are a delight.
Moisture and texture they do add.
Fig rich foods … take a big bite.
We guarantee you’ll be glad!
— MAH

This ancient fruit is believed to have originated in the Middle East. It’s the most talked about fruit in the Bible with early mentions in the Babylonian hymnbook around 2000 BC.10

The fig is a sweet multiseeded fruit with hundreds of varieties ranging in color from white to purple-black. Figs usually are eaten dried and most commonly used as a filling in cookies.

Health Bonus
Figs contain antioxidants, fiber, potassium, calcium, and iron, and there’s emerging evidence that fig leaves have antidiabetic properties and may reduce insulin requirements in people with type 1 diabetes. Figs also have a natural laxative effect.11

How to Buy and Store
Fresh figs should be soft and yielding to the touch but not mushy. Choose figs that are clean and dry with smooth, unbroken skin. Figs are perishable and should be purchased no more than two days in advance of using them. Keep them refrigerated in a plastic bag.12

Holiday Tips
• Boost the nutrient content of stuffing with dried figs. Amster plumps dried figs before adding them to his cornbread stuffing. (See recipe below.)

• Eat figs raw as a snack.

• Add figs to fruit compote.

• Dip fresh figs in chocolate to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Pecans
Pecans, a very nutritious treat,
tasty and lots of crunch!
Small portions are what to eat,
whether in snacks, dinner, or lunch.
— MAH

Pecans are the only tree nuts that grow naturally in North America. Their history can be traced back to the 16th century. The name “pecan” is a Native American term used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”13

Health Bonus
Compared with other tree nuts, pecans rank No. 1 in antioxidant capacity. They’re also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fat, vitamin E, magnesium, and copper. Studies show nuts can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease, lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, dilate blood vessels, and prevent hardening of the arteries.14

How to Buy and Store
Choose unshelled nuts that are heavy for their size and free of cracks and blemishes. Fresh nuts won’t rattle when shaken, whereas old nuts will.

Unshelled pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place for six to 12 months. Shelled pecans can be refrigerated for about nine months and stored in the freezer up to two years.15

Holiday Tips
• Skip the pecan pie and opt for pecans sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. If you must have pie, however, slice it thin and remove the crust.

Cornmeal
Stuffing and the holidays, a very natural pairing.
So many, many recipes abound!
Mix and match ingredients … be a little daring,
and leftovers will soon not be around!
— MAH

Most often referred to as a vegetable, corn is cultivated as a grain. The kernels can be eaten raw or cooked, turned into oil, or dried and ground into cornmeal. Corn often is associated with the color yellow, but it comes in several different colors, such as red, pink, black, purple, and blue.16

Health Bonus
Like other whole grains, cornmeal is high in complex carbohydrates. It’s also an excellent source of fiber and provides potassium and vitamin C.

Studies indicate whole grains reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease and assist with weight management. In addition, recent research shows whole grains are beneficial for reducing the risk of asthma; inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis; and colorectal cancer.17

How to Store
Place cornmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, where it will remain fresh for about one year.18

Holiday Tips
• Add more fruit and vegetables to your stuffing. Amster incorporated the nutritional goodness of pecans, figs, and apples into his cornbread stuffing below.

• Bake stuffing in muffin tins to offer single-serving portions.

• Use whole grain bread instead of white when making homemade stuffing.

Sweet Potatoes
Hot and fluffy, with marshmallow crowns,
or in hot ovens, we slowly bake.
When served at a meal, there’ll be no frowns,
when sweet potatoes we all make!
— MAH

The terms “sweet potato” and “yam” often are used interchangeably; however, they’re not the same. The sweet potato belongs to the morning glory family of flowering plants, and a true yam is native to Africa and belongs to a different botanical group of plants. Depending on the variety, sweet potato flesh can range from white to orange or purple.19

Health Bonus
Sweet potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and beta-carotene, which boost antioxidant intake and prevent cell damage. They have a low glycemic index, and recent research suggests they may reduce postprandial hyperglycemia and insulin resistance in people with diabetes.20

How to Buy and Store
Choose firm, small- to medium-size potatoes with smooth skin. Avoid buying ones with cracks, soft spots, or blemishes. To keep sweet potatoes fresh, store them in a cool, dark, dry place and use them within three to five weeks.21

Holiday Tips
• Roast sweet potatoes to bring out their natural flavor. Eat them with the skin to increase the amount of fiber and other nutrients consumed.

• To reduce calories in a typical sweet potato casserole recipe, nix the marshmallow topping, and whip the potatoes with orange juice instead of butter.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate … a universal favorite!
Its properties we can’t resist.
Nearly every day we crave it.
So in holiday recipes, we do insist!
— MAH

Chocolate comes from cacao (or cocoa) beans, which really aren’t beans but seeds that grow in the podlike fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, according to a 2011 study published in Chemistry Central Journal.22 Once harvested, cacao seeds and their surrounding fruit pulp are fermented by naturally occurring microbes. The seeds are then dried and shipped to processors where the thin outer layer is removed. The stripped-down seeds are roasted and milled to produce chocolate liquor that’s then used to make cocoa powder for both dark and milk chocolate.

Ground and refined cacao beans are the raw material to make sweet, milk, and baking chocolate. Most of the chocolate we eat has its roots in Africa, which generates about 70% of the world’s cacao beans.23

Health Bonus
Dark chocolate is considered a superfruit because it’s rich in naturally occurring phytochemicals called flavanols, according to the same study published online in Chemistry Central Journal. Other studies suggest these antioxidant compounds are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased blood pressure, and improved lipid profiles. Emerging research indicates that cocoa flavanols also may reduce insulin resistance and improve cognition.24

Holiday Tips
• Look for dark chocolate that’s high in cocoa solids (at least 70%). Dark chocolate products are increasingly providing the percentage of cocoa solids on the label. The higher the percentage, the greater the concentration of flavanols and the heart-health benefits.

• Add Pumpkin Chocolate Yogurt to your holiday dessert table (see recipe below). “This dessert is a very healthful way to enjoy dark chocolate,” Amster says. “It’s not accompanied by excessive amounts of sugar and other ingredients, which all too often diminish the health benefits of high-quality dark chocolate.”

— Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, is the national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, specializing in African American Nutrition, and author of the African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully With Diabetes.

 

Loaded Corn Muffins

Makes 12 standard-size muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 T flaxseeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup yellow corn flour (Corn flour is not cornmeal. Look for corn flour in the Latin/Hispanic section of your supermarket or specialty food stores)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone ground cornmeal
1/4 cup packed plus 1 T light brown sugar
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 honey crisp or Fuji apple, washed, cored, and cut into raisin-sized pieces
1 cup 2% or whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream or low- or nonfat plain or vanilla yogurt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup melted butter

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place 12 muffin liners in a 12-cup muffin tin, and spray the liners with a nonfat vegetable oil spray.

2. Soak the cranberries and raisins in the warm water for 15 minutes or until plump. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

3. Combine the flaxseeds, walnuts, corn flour, flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.

4. Add the cranberries, raisins, and apple pieces and stir to incorporate.

5. Combine the milk, sour cream, and eggs and mix well.

6. Add the egg mixture and melted butter to the dry ingredients, and mix quickly just until the dry ingredients become wet. Do not overmix.

7. Portion the batter into the sprayed muffin liners, filling each liner between one-half and two-thirds full.

8. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the muffins comes out clean.

9. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the tin. Muffins may be frozen when completely cooled.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 239; Protein: 5 g; Carbohydrate: 37 g; Fiber: 3 g; Total fat: 8.5 g; Sat fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 51mg; Sodium: 240 mg

— Recipe courtesy of Richard A. Amster

 

Cornbread Stuffing

Serves 12

Ingredients
4 oz ground turkey or turkey sausage
3/4 cup pecan pieces
8 dried figs, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Warm water (to soak and plump the dried figs)
Two 6- to 7-oz packages prepared cornbread stuffing mix*
1 honey crisp or Fuji apple, washed, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Low-fat chicken stock as needed, approximately 1 cup

Directions
1. Cook the ground turkey, drain any fat, and set aside to cool.

2. Toast the pecan pieces in a skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan to prevent the pecans from burning. When they give off a toasted aroma, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

3. Soak the diced figs in the warm water for 15 minutes or until plump, drain well, and pat dry with paper towels.

4. Prepare the stuffing according to the package instructions and add the cooked turkey, toasted pecan pieces, plumped figs, and diced apple.

5. If needed, add chicken stock to make the mix more moist and additional seasonings (eg, dried sage, cumin powder, paprika) to taste.

* Using store-bought stuffing mix is the easiest way to start a good cornbread stuffing, and a premium quality mix will include the appropriate seasonings. The additional ingredients listed above will enhance the mix and make your stuffing special.

Nutrient Analysis per serving (using ground turkey)
Calories: 196; Protein: 7 g; Carbohydrate: 29 g; Fiber: 6 g; Total fat: 7 g; Sat fat 0.8 g; Cholesterol: 4 mg; Sodium: 398 mg

— Recipe courtesy of Richard A. Amster

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Yogurt

This recipe is a healthful way to enjoy dark chocolate because it isn’t made with excessive amounts of sugar and other ingredients that often diminish the health benefits of high-quality dark chocolate.

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 cups nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup pumpkin purée (canned is perfect)
4 T dark honey
2 to 3 pinches ground cinnamon
2 pinches ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
One 4-oz cacao dark chocolate bar that contains a high percentage of cacao solids, grated

Directions
1. Combine all the ingredients except the chocolate in a large bowl and mix well to incorporate.

2. Portion the mixture into individual serving dishes. Divide the chocolate evenly between the servings and stir to incorporate.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 278; Protein: 13 g; Carbohydrate: 38 g; Fiber: 3 g; Total fat: 12 g; Sat fat 6 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 45 mg

— Recipe courtesy of Richard A. Amster

 

References
1. Apples. The World’s Healthiest Foods website. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=15&tname=foodspice. Accessed October 11, 2012.

2. Boyer J, Liu RH. Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Nutr J. 2004;3:5.

3. Apples: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/apple-nutrition-selection-storage. Accessed September 23, 2012.

4. About cranberries. The Cranberry Institute website. http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/about_cranberry.htm. Accessed October 10, 2012.

5. Rediscover cranberries. The Cranberry Institute website. http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/RCToolkit/index.html. Accessed October 10, 2012.

6. Cranberries: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/cranberries. Accessed September 23, 2012.

7. Anderson K, Anderson L. The International Dictionary of Food & Nutrition. New York: Wiley; 1993:222.

8. Pumpkins and more. University of Illinois Extension website. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins/selection.cfm. Accessed October 15, 2012.

9. Pumpkins: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/pumpkin. Accessed September 23, 2012.

10. Figs facts. California Figs website. http://www.californiafigs.com/page.php?page=18. Accessed October 14, 2012.

11. Find a vitamin or supplement: fig. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-445-FIG.aspx?activeIngredientId=445&activeIngredientName=FIG. Accessed October 14, 2012.

12. Figs: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/fresh-figs. Accessed September 23, 2012.

13. History of pecans. National Pecan Shellers Assocation website. http://www.ilovepecans.org/history.html.

14. Pecans: antioxidant-packed nuts. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/pecans-antioxidant-packed-nuts. Accessed October 26, 2012.

15. Pecans: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/pecans. Accessed September 23, 2012.

16. Corn. The World’s Healthiest Foods website. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=90. Accessed October 26, 2012.

17. Whole grains 101: what are the health benefits? Whole Grains Council website. http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/what-are-the-health-benefits. Accessed October 26, 2012.

18. Using and storing cornmeal. University of Missouri Extension website. http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1119. Accessed November 6, 2012.

19. Sweet potatoes. The World’s Healthiest Foods website. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=64. Accessed November 6, 2012.

20. Zhang ZF, Lu J, Zheng YL, et al. Purple sweet potato color attenuates hepatic insulin resistance via blocking oxidative stress and endoplasmic reticulum stress in high-fat-diet-treated mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2012;Epub ahead of print.

21. Sweet potato: nutrition, selection, storage. Fruits & Veggies More Matters website. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/sweet-potato. Accessed September 23, 2012.

22. Crozier SJ, Preston AG, Hurst JW, et al. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: a comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chem Cent J. 2011;5:5.

23. Where chocolate comes from. All Chocolate website. http://www.allchocolate.com/understanding/where_chocolate_comes_from. Accessed October 15, 2012.

24. Discover the health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate. Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition. http://www.hersheys.com/nutrition-professionals/resources-toolkit.aspx. Accessed October 15, 2012.

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