TTU Human Ecology professor names six holiday foods that are healthier than you think

Forget decking the halls with boughs of holly! For many people, holiday celebrations mean decking their plates with delectable foods.

But that doesn’t mean holiday eating can’t be healthy, says Cathy Cunningham, professor of food, nutrition and dietetics at Tennessee Tech University. In fact, she has identified six foods often plentiful at holiday get-togethers that might be healthier than you realize:

Nuts. “They’re a staple at Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, but most of us think of nuts as fatty, salty, high-calorie snacks,” Cunningham said. “In reality, they’re plentiful in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber, folic acid and other B vitamins. You can even avoid unwanted sodium by purchasing unsalted varieties.”

Chocolate. “One bar contains antioxidant chemicals equivalent to the amount in a cup of brewed tea, and some studies suggest that eating chocolate in moderation might even extend your life,” she said. “In one study, for example, men who exercised regularly and ate one to three chocolate bars per month lived longer than men who exercised regularly but abstained entirely from eating chocolate.”

Citrus fruits and some vegetables. “It’s common knowledge that citrus fruits and some vegetables are high in vitamin C, but they’re also high in phytochemicals that help promote eye health and protect against strokes and some forms of cancer,” Cunningham said. “And the brighter and more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more plentiful the phytochemicals — so eat with your eyes as well as your mouths, and select the most orange oranges and sweet potatoes, greenest broccoli and most yellow squash.”

Wine. “Past studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine is good for the heart, but many people are unsure of what kind and how much,” she said. “The truth is that all types of wines may contain some level of those beneficial compounds, and the recommended portion size is four ounces. That’s only about a half-cup.”

Shellfish. “Some people avoid eating shellfish because it’s high in cholesterol, but they may be eliminating an excellent source of the ‘good,’ heart-healthy cholesterol from their diets,” Cunningham said. “Shellfish are also low in fat and high in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.”

And corn. “It’s often said that a healthy diet is rich in whole grains, but what many people don’t realize is that corn is a whole grain,” Cunningham said. “It’s also a good source of carotinoids and luteins, which promote eye health.”

Regardless of what other foods may be on your plate this holiday season, choosing a wide selection of different items and maintaining proper portions are always keys to good nutrition. Exercising that knowledge now could help keep “losing weight” off your list of New Year’s resolutions.

Food, nutrition and dietetics is one of five program concentrations in TTU’s School of Human Ecology, and it offers two options — in dietetics or food systems administration. For more information about the program, call TTU’s School of Human Ecology at 931/372-3157.