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Prescribing holiday foods to fight chronic disease

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You can treat or prevent disease through dietary changes this holiday season.

Chocolate, fudge and other colorful and delectable sweets dominate our diets in December, leaving us wishing we’d asked for bigger pants or a larger belt under the Christmas tree. Looking beyond winter weight gain and the stretch pants, more importantly, holiday eating doesn’t provide people with the vitamins, nutrients and fiber they need to stay healthy and fight off chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, obesity and prolonged pain.

Food and nutrition can serve as medicine, and with the right dose of fruits and vegetables, a healthy diet and lifestyle can be as effective as some medications and medical treatments.

“This winter you can boost the nutrition value in your holiday and cold-weather recipes by incorporating more colorful fruits, vegetables and healthy alternatives into your diet,” says Irene Franklin, director of nutritional services at Adventist Medical Center. “No matter what time of year it is, I challenge my patients to explore food options that will provide their bodies with the nutrients they need to stay healthy and prevent chronic disease.”

Be proactive about your health, nutrition and fighting disease this holiday season by improving your diet with these simple changes—and hold on to those skinny jeans, because you may need them in the New Year.

Fruits and vegetables

Increase your servings of colorful fruits and vegetables this season and kick the carbs to the curb. Whole fruits, berries and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. All fruits in general are low-fat and low-calorie. They are also packed with antioxidants that fight harmful substances that may damage cells, like cigarette smoke. Eating foods high in antioxidants can also help reduce risk for heart disease.

Instead of serving candied yams this Christmas Eve, try tossing a spinach salad with blood orange, almonds or peanuts and white vinaigrette, or roasting Brussels sprouts with some olive oil and sea salt. Both are tasty, healthier alternatives to fattening side dishes. Dieticians recommend getting at least four to five servings of vegetables and leafy greens per day. Studies show that these vitamin E-rich vegetables boost the immune system and play an essential role in protecting the body from bacteria.

For a more colorful salad, mix together beets, baby greens and walnuts with feta or goat cheese and a poppy seed dressing. Beets are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, which help protect the body from cancer, heart disease and inflammation.

Low-fat dairy

Skip the eggnog and switch to nonfat milk and healthier dairy options that can provide you with calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone strength and help reduce cancer and other health risks. Bake or cook with nutrient-rich low-fat or nonfat milk and dairy products.

Whole grains

Whole grains are packed with fiber and magnesium and can reduce levels of certain proteins in the blood that rise when responding to inflammation. Whole grains even help prevent various cancers linked to obesity. Search for whole grains on the nutrition label for breads, pasta and cereal—it should be the primary ingredient. Corn, oats, quinoa and brown rice are just a few whole grain options. Leave the sweet rolls and refined grains on the supermarket shelf for healthier meals and a flatter tummy.

Nuts

Roasting chestnuts is a holiday tradition and these bronze-colored morsels are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They make the perfect snack for a festive walk down Peacock Lane or a chilly night in with a holiday movie. Nuts are rich in healthy fats and antioxidants that help fight inflammation and repair damage. Almonds are a good source for fiber, calcium and vitamin E, while walnuts have high amounts of omega-3 acids.

Soy

Honey ham is last year’s news. Try replacing meat with a soy protein substitute like tofu or tempeh that are high in fiber and low in fat. Switching to soy products and cutting out meat can help lower LDL cholesterol and improve bone and heart health. It can also keep the extra pounds off, preventing other diseases that can be linked to excess weight, such as arthritis and diabetes.

Ginger and turmeric

Spice up your holiday dishes and fight disease with roots that pack a punch. Turmeric’s main component helps neutralize regulatory proteins that trigger inflammation linked to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer and even depression. Ginger has medicinal qualities that help with an upset stomach and intestinal inflammation.