15 Red and Green Superfoods to Use in Healthy Holiday Meals
Holiday parties! Cookie swaps! Company cocktail gatherings! Oh my. With the holidays in full swing and no shortage of tempting and decadent treats, it’s no surprise that it can be harder than ever to slip healthy eats into your diet. But fear not. We tapped Jennifer Christman, RDN, LDN, CPT, corporate dietitian at Medifast, and Lisa Hayim, MS, RD and founder The Well Necessities, a private nutrition counseling company based in New York, to find out how to slip holiday spirit into your diet the healthy way with these nutritious and satisfying red and green superfoods.
“Spirulina is blue-green alga that is high in protein, iron, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals, and essential fatty acids too. A few clinical studies suggest that spirulina has therapeutic effects that range from reducing cholesterol levels to enhancing the immune system. It is the world’s richest source of vitamin B12, making it a perfect supplement to diets of vegetarians and vegans,” says Hayim.
Commercially, spirulina is sold either as a powder or a tablet. I recommend adding just a teaspoon into some of your favorite breakfast meals such as smoothies, oats, or even with a glass of almond milk and a bit of stevia to sweeten,” she adds.
2. Red peppers
“Red peppers are loaded with heart healthy vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid and fiber. This bright, crisp vegetable tastes great fresh with a high protein Greek yogurt dip,” comments Christman. Need some “inspepperation”? Check out our “6 Stuffed Pepper Recipes That Make a Quick and Easy Dinner.”
“Matcha is a powdered green tea that is made by grinding the leaves with a stone mill. It is known to be richer in some nutritional elements compared to other green teas due to a longer processing period. It has a more bitter flavor due to the high concentrations of amino acids (the building blocks for protein),” explains Hayim. She elaborates:
It’s also super rich in polyphenols (micronutrients that prevent degenerative diseases) such as chlorophyll (aids in cleansing and oxygenation of blood) and epigallocetchins (also good for cleansing and detoxification, protects skin from oxidative damage, improves immunity, and boosts metabolism). True matcha can be very expensive. For that reason, I like to use it sparingly, and consume it mindfully, stopping to sit down and savor the flavor. The easiest way to consume matcha is to make a homemade latte. Just add a teaspoon of matcha powder to hot water, with a splash of almond milk. Its full body flavor makes for the perfect after dinner beverage.
This is important to keep in mind: Yes, matcha still contains caffeine, but it is said to give you the same energetic lift without the side effects.
“Pomegranates are frequently associated with the holiday season. The skin is thick and inedible, but there are hundreds of edible seeds called arils within. These can be eaten raw or in a juice,” says Christman. “One cup of arils contains 7 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein, which help keep you feeling full and your digestive track healthy,” she adds. For some recipe ideas, see these delicious dishes.
We give you complete permission to indulge in this festive, fun, and incredibly versatile superfruit. “Kiwi is a fun, green fruit that tastes sweet and is rich in vitamin C while also low on the glycemic index. The kiwi was first introduced in the U.S. in the late 1960s. One kiwi provides only 42 calories and only 10 grams of carbohydrate, while the kiwi seeds also provide a small amount of omega-3 fats,” offers Christman. “You can eat a kiwi by cutting it in half and scooping the green sweetness with just a spoon!” she exclaims.
6. Goji berries
Goji berries are all over the supermarket these days. Goji berries are rich in plant based antioxidants and high in vitamin C. In 2011, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition released a preliminary study that indicated that goji berries may support weight loss efforts. In an experiment involving a group of overweight adults, the author observed that those who consumed goji berry juice for 2 weeks, had greater decrease in waist circumference compared to the group that received a placebo over the same amount of time. You can find them whole, in juice, in powder form, and even covered in dark chocolate. I add whole goji berries to salads to add a tangy flavor, or pair them with soy nuts to make my own healthy trail mix.
She cautions, “Note: Goji berries may interact with certain medications such as blood thinners, blood pressure medication, and diabetes medication, so do discuss with your doctor first!”
7. Dried seaweed
“Dried seaweed is a very low calorie (about 1 calorie per sheet!) flavorful food that can be used to enhance the flavor and nutrition in main courses, or enjoyed as a snack. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and full of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. I recommend my clients to buy sheets of Nori plain, and dipping in a little soy sauce or a Bragg’s amino acid,” offers Hayim. And before you buy: “Many companies have come out with flavored packs convenient sized packs of dried seaweed. While you still get the nutrition benefits from these, be aware that it will be higher in sodium, and fat as they are usually coated in oil and flavoring,” warns Hayim.
“The cherry is such a fun food that also provides health benefits such as reducing inflammation, antioxidant protection with anthocyanins and cyanidin and lowering stroke risk,” comments Chritman. “Make this a family affair by assisting the young kids with their own cherry pitter. Just watch the cherry juice as it can stain clothes!” Christman adds. “I buy cherries frozen, so they are always around to throw into a smoothie, or top to a dessert. For dessert, I blend cherries with coconut milk to create a vegan cherry coconut whipped cream that is clean and delicious,” says Hayim. Holiday dessert healthy topping dilemma: solved.
9. Hemp powder
“Hemp powder is made from nutrient dense hemp seeds, and contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. The seeds usually contain over 30% oil, and 25% protein. They are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which has shown to improve blood cholesterol levels, decreasing your risk of heart disease, as well as decrease the risk for type 2 diabetes,” says Hayim. “Hemp seeds are one of the richest plant sources of protein and fiber making just a sprinkle of it in its powder form an excellent addition to your diet. Its green color comes from the chlorophyll found in the seed. It is one of the cleanest protein supplements, and makes a perfect addition to your morning smoothie,” she continues.
“This red vegetable is actually considered a fruit because it contains seeds. Lycopene, a carotenoid pigment, has been associated with the deep red color of tomatoes, but also provides health benefits. In addition to being high in antioxidants, fiber and potassium, tomatoes are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, which makes this ‘fruit’ a great, heart-healthy food,” offers Christman. “Because there are so many varieties of tomatoes on the market, you can make anything from homemade tomato sauce to adding slices of tomato on sandwiches,” she adds. Homemade tomato sauce? Don’t mind if we do.
If you already love it because it’s darn tasty, you might love it even more once you read this: “The fiber and healthy monounsaturated fats in an avocado help to promote fullness and a healthy digestive tract. Avocados are nutrient dense and also are slightly higher in calories in comparison to other fruits because of the higher fat content,” says Christman. “Substitute avocados in recipes that call for butter, oil or mayo for a more nutritious alternative to these traditional ingredients. To see if an avocado is ripe, check the spot on the stem. If it is green, then the avocado is ripe and if it is brown, it is overripe,” she adds.
12. Red chili peppers
Chili peppers are not just a spicy topper for summer dips and salads. “Chili peppers are available throughout the year. They stimulate metabolism, and help release endorphins (feel good chemicals). They also pack a punch of flavor and spice to food without increasing the fat or calorie content,” says Hayim. “A recent study from the Journal of Cancer Research found that hot peppers even have some anti-cancer properties. If you can’t get your hands on fresh chili pepper, just one tablespoon of chili flakes can provide the same benefits,” she adds.
“Broccoli is a low-calorie vegetable that contains more than two times the amount of vitamin C as an orange,” says Christman. “The fiber content along with the vitamins and minerals makes this green vegetable a great choice for reducing the risk for certain types of cancer,” she elaborates. Not the biggest fan? Transform your cruciferous cravings with these surprisingly delicious broccoli recipes.
“Apples are best eaten with the skin to maximize nutritional benefits. An apple has 4 grams of fiber, which helps you feel full and aides in digestive health,” says Christman. “Apples are a great grab-and-go fruit or you can cut it up and enjoy it with a small amount of nut butter,” she adds.
“This green vegetable is extremely versatile and can be utilized in many different holiday recipes such as dips and soups. Spinach is a great source of iron and high in water (92% water),” offers Christman. “Eating adequate amounts of iron and staying hydrated are important for hair health and energy levels,” she adds. Feeling adventurous with the greens? Try watercress. “Watercress comes in at just 4 calories per cup and has more calcium than milk, and more vitamin C than orange juice!” exclaims Hayim. “You can add it to sandwich, wrap, or omelet, or create an entire salad using it as the base,” she suggests.