Are you bracing yourself for emotional overload and dietary disaster? Nutritionist Mallory Gonzales (MS, RD) shares her tips for a happy, healthy holiday season.
Do you look forward to the holidays? Precious time with loved ones, sharing delicious food and giving thanks for all the gifts the year has brought: on paper, it sounds perfect. But in real life, it can turn out to be anything but. Family gatherings are often flashpoints for stress and anxiety, as are big celebration meals. There’s all sorts of pressure to overspend, overeat and generally overindulge.
If you change one thing this holiday season to guard against all of those pitfalls and more, change this: try to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies, every day. A serving is about a cupful, and you can choose any raw or cooked fruits and veggies you enjoy - just try to get a wide selection of colorful produce. Remember: unless they include all the fiber from the pulp, fruit and veggie juices don’t count. (And neither do strawberry laces, or grape jelly, or tomato ketchup - but you already knew that, right? ;-)
The ‘five-a-day’ rule is based on many years’ worth of rock-solid nutritional data, which shows that people who eat more plants tend to enjoy a longer lifespan, together with a reduced risk of nearly all the most common non-communicable diseases - including heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer. The latest research suggests a diet rich in whole plant foods brings major mental health benefits, too. And you don’t have to go full-on vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of fruits and veggies - it’s about adding good things to your diet, more than cutting things out.
Here are my top three ways that fruits and veggies can help your holiday season run smoothly.
1. They help right-size your appetite
We’re surrounded by temptation during the holidays, since the things we tend to see as celebration foods are often low in nutritional value, and laden with sugar and fat. These are the same kinds of foods that disrupt your body’s natural ability to sense when you’ve had enough. If you’re not careful, “just one bite” turns into two, then three, then the whole plateful. Denial is not the answer, in my opinion - defining certain foods as “off limits” just makes you crave them more. This is where your “veggies first” policy comes into its own: allow yourself a taste of all your favorite treats, just make sure you eat plenty of vegetables beforehand. They’re fiber-rich and full of complex carbohydrates, so you’ll not only be well nourished, you’ll also feel more satisfied - and less likely to binge on calories with less nutritional value.
2. They can stabilize your mood
Getting your five-a-day can also really help with the emotional load of the holidays. Plant foods contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to help process and remove stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. They also contain phytonutrients that fight inflammation in the body - which can be a marker for depression. Again, this doesn’t mean you always have to skip out on a slice of pumpkin bread from your favorite cafe. It just means that consistently choosing to fuel your body with complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables instead of simple sugars can help your body prepare and process those stress hormones better, potentially decreasing symptoms of depression.
There are also specific plants that are thought to aid with emotional balance. One of the most interesting is maca, a Peruvian vegetable from the cabbage family that appears to have hormone-balancing effects. In clinical trials, powdered maca root has been linked with positive effects on mood and cognitive function, as well as memory and libido. Several small but promising studies have shown it could reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Maca root is available from many natural health stores as a powder (to add to smoothies or meals) and as a supplement. (As always, do your research and consult with your physician before adding supplements to your regime.)
3. They boost your energy
Fatigue is something we’re all familiar with by the time the holidays come around. The shorter daylight hours cause a natural energy dip, and that coincides with an increase in late nights and alcohol consumption for many of us. As a result, we can hit a wall before Christmas rolls around. High-quality plant nutrients can really help keep energy levels steady throughout the day - without the spikes and crashes that sugar and caffeine bring with them.
Fiber from whole fruits and vegetables helps to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and regulate blood sugar levels. A slow, sustained release of energy is what you’re after, rather than an instant sugar rush. Another crucial fatigue fighter is iron: the best plant sources are green leafy vegetables like spinach, as well as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. It’s also found in mushrooms and potatoes.
One plant food with bonus fatigue-fighting powers is spirulina, a superfood derived from marine algae. I don’t use the term “superfood” lightly, but spirulina really is something different. It’s exceptionally high in protein for a plant food (protein makes up 60-70% of its dry weight), and it’s a “complete” protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids, usually only found together in animal proteins. It also beats out most other veggies when it comes to important minerals like iron, folate and magnesium. And it’s very high in antioxidants: a small but promising study on runners showed that it may improve athletic performance and reduce muscle fatigue when taken as a supplement.
So there you have it: a lot of information, but just one simple assignment: eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day! I wish you a healthy and joyful holiday season, full of tasty plants - as well as all sorts of pumpkin-spiced-deliciousness.
HEALTHY HOLIDAY HEROES
All fruits and veggies will contribute to healthier holidays, but here are our top five suggestions:
1. Maca: mood-balancing root
Find it in new kencko RUBIES
2. Spirulina: blue-green nutritional powerhouse
Find it in new kencko AQUAMARINES
3. Berries: anti-inflammatory superheroes
Find them in kencko RUBIES, REDS, and PURPLES
4. Spinach: the original fatigue-fighting superfood
Find it in kencko GREENS
5. Oranges: packed with Vitamin C to boost immunity
Find them in kencko CORALS
Every kencko smoothie counts as at least 2.5 of your 5-a-day, and supplies all the fiber and nutrients from 100% organic fruits and veggies. In handy powdered form, they are travel-friendly and easy to drink anywhere - just add to water or any milk and shake to mix.