The holidays are a great time to see family and old friends, and the feasts that go along with them only add to the experience. We know you’re probably not going to eat in moderation, especially with older relatives scolding you for being too skinny. This guide is here to show you what’s in 11 traditional holiday foods you’re used to eating. If nothing else, it will tell you what to eat more of and what to eat in smaller portions.
Nutritional information and advice come from Melissa Dobbins, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as the USDA. All daily value percentages are based off a 2,000-calorie diet.
Turkey might be the Thanksgiving centerpiece, but it's also a common dish during the other winter holidays as well, and it's actually a healthy choice, so don’t hesitate to grab a second helping (or third). It’s a protein-rich food without many calories, giving you 74 percent of your daily protein intake in a 340-calorie serving (140 g). It’s a bit high in cholesterol (42% of daily limit) but offers helpful amounts of other beneficial vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin B6 and zinc. Good thing there’s always enough of it to go around.
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The roasted ham, another common main course in holiday feasts, is pretty similar to turkey, just with more sodium and a bit less cholesterol. A 100-gram serving has 122 calories and 36 percent of your daily protein. Like turkey, it also includes noticeable amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, but the sodium levels are extremely high at 38 percent (900 mg). It does, however, have just 7 percent of your daily cholesterol limit. Ham is a safe choice as long as you limit your sodium otherwise.
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A single biscuit cooked with refrigerated dough comes in at just under 100 calories. They don’t have much fat, but they also don’t include many nutrients, plus they’re high in sodium for their size (12% of daily limit). As Dobbins points out, if you have the chance, you’ll want to go with a whole-wheat dinner roll or something similar to get a more nutritious alternative.
Although it has very little cholesterol, gravy is basically just a thick liquid brimming with sodium and calories. If you really like the flavor and moisture it adds to your food, use it in small doses, but you’re in the best shape if you can do without it.
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The usual canned cranberry sauce is, unfortunately, very high in sugar but not in nutrition. A regular one-cup serving size packs 418 calories, mostly from the whopping 105 grams of sugar. It does have 11 percent of your daily fiber intake, but it only has trace amounts of protein and essential vitamins and minerals. You might want to take it easy on this one, or try a homemade sauce.
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When it comes to picking out your sides, mashed potatoes are always going to be the most obvious choice. As it turns out, they’re actually not too bad of an option, offering up plenty of nutrients like fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and even calcium (if it’s prepared with milk). The only thing is that it’s another sodium-filled food, although that depends on how it’s prepared. Mashed potatoes are a fine choice as long as they’re not doctored up with huge amounts of salt, butter and/or gravy. Dobbins suggests sweet potatoes as an even healthier alternative.
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The nutritional value of stuffing really depends on the preparation. If it’s homemade with plenty of vegetables and onions, it can be a perfectly healthy option. However, most common, store-bought stuffing is low in nutrients and high in refined carbohydrates and fat. If you’re eating that kind of stuffing during the holidays, try to keep it to a minimum.
When looking for a holiday snack, roasted, salted pumpkin seeds aren’t a bad option. They’re much healthier than most other snacks and taste great when prepared correctly. A one-ounce, 125-calorie serving is low in fat and cholesterol while providing strong sources of protein, zinc and magnesium. Grab a handful while they’re in season.
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Whether you reach for a pumpkin ale, a stout, a winter lager or some other seasonal brew, keep in mind that those are very hearty beers, often ranging from 150 to 200 calories per bottle. It might taste great but there’s not much nutritional benefit to be had, so drink in moderation to limit your calorie intake and drunkenness.
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With so many possibilities out there, it’s hard to say which soups are better to eat and which ones aren’t as good. However, Dobbins mentions that broth-based soups are usually better options than cream-based. Also, if it includes plenty of vegetables, that obviously improves the nutritional value, especially if the rest of your meal has a lot of meat, starch and sugar (it probably will).
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Choosing a piece of pie is always a tough choice, so maybe we can help a little bit. Dobbins notes that among holiday favorites, pumpkin might be your best bet and pecan might be the worst. An average slice of pecan has a little over 500 calories, while pumpkin boasts slightly over 300. The classic apple pie is right in between the two, coming in at a bit over 400 calories. All of them boast small quantities of several vitamins and minerals, except pumpkin pie, which has more than a full day’s worth of Vitamin A.
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