5 Traditional Holiday Foods With Surprising Health Benefits

The holidays are a time for food, drink, and celebration, but the tasty treats we crave throughout the season can wreak serious havoc on our diets. It is possible, however, to maintain a healthy diet through the holidays while allowing yourself to indulge here and there, especially when considering the healthier aspects of your favorite holiday dishes.

Read on to learn the hidden health benefits of five traditional holiday foods. This year, you can celebrate the season without guilt — so long as you celebrate in moderation!

Source: iStock

1. Gingerbread men

The gingerbread man is a staple of the holiday season, sweetened with molasses and brown sugar or maple syrup. Food’s traditional recipe incorporates a generous scoop of ginger, which lends the treat its distinctively spiced taste. While these cookies don’t top the charts in terms of nutrition, they do offer their share of benefits in comparison to other holiday desserts. For instance, Real Simple points out that the average gingerbread cookie has about half the calories of the average sugar cookie.

On top of the cookie’s caloric advantages, its chief ingredient, ginger, has been touted as an herbal remedy (and cooking spice) for thousands of years, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Ginger root is used to treat nausea, vomiting, and osteoarthritic pain. Preliminary studies suggest that the herb could also aid in lowering cholesterol and preventing harmful blood clots, which could prove useful in seeking natural treatments for heart disease.

Source: iStock

2. Pomegranate

Pomegranate season hits its peak around the holidays, and many families adorn their feasts with the luscious ruby-red fruit in celebration. The pomegranate is about as healthy as it gets in holiday eating: Each ½-cup serving of the seeds contains 72 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber. Livestrong notes that the fruit is a significant source of vitamins C and K, which help relieve blood clotting and have restorative effects on the immune system. Pomegranate also contains a notable amount of potassium, which aids in blood pressure moderation and muscle control.

Pomegranate is perhaps best known for its high antioxidant content, which helps to counteract the damaging effects of oxidation on cells throughout our bodies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) even ranked pomegranate juice as the fifth greatest antioxidant based on its oxygen radical absorbance capacity per typical serving.

Source: iStock

3. Baked ham

Many families prefer to serve ham as the main course, particularly on Christmas Day. Like all our favorite holiday treats both sweet and savory, the dish comes with its perks and its downfalls. Baked ham may be high in sodium, but it packs in about 18 grams of protein per serving, reports FitDay. It also offers substantial levels of vitamins B6 and B12, along with iron, potassium, and zinc, among other minerals. As always, be sure to enjoy in moderation.

Source: iStock

4. Candy canes

When dessert rolls around this holiday season and your table is packed with pies, cakes, and cookies, your best bet is to reach for a candy cane first. These sweet snacks are flavored with peppermint, which has been shown to aid indigestion symptoms — which might come in handy after the holiday ham — The Huffington Post reports. Peppermint is also believed to dispel tension headaches and improve concentration. You may also want to keep a candy cane just for sniffing during the food-laden holiday season: The Chicago Tribune reported that study volunteers who sniffed the peppermint scent every two hours ate 2,800 fewer calories on average each week than volunteers who didn’t.

Like most desserts, this peppermint treat is naught but empty calories, but it does have its perks. A 6-inch candy cane contains about 55 calories, reports Livestrong, making it a less calorie-heavy offender than most of the alternatives.

Source: iStock

5. Plum pudding

Sometimes known as Christmas pudding, this traditional holiday dish consists of dried fruits of your choice — think dried pineapple, pears, apples, plums, and raisins — moistened with treacle or molasses, and flavored with seasonal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and more, per a traditional recipe shared by Food Network.

Although this dish is certainly indulgent enough to earn its keep on the dessert table, it does have some health benefits that other cookies and pies cannot muster. For instance, the Daily Express notes that some dried fruits are significant sources of vitamin C, antioxidants, and even iron. Additionally, the nuts often found in plum pudding contribute protein and help lower levels of LDL (otherwise known as “bad”) cholesterol. And finally, the spices and herbs used to flavor this famous dish are rife with cancer-fighting antioxidants — cinnamon, allspice, coriander, and more boast these incredible nutritive properties.