It's easy to get distracted by less-than-ideal holiday goodies, but this time of year, some of the healthiest foods are also quite popular. Here are five of my favorites and good-for-you ways to enjoy them:
Corn: A lot of people think of corn as food that offers no nutritional value, but a half cup cooked counts as a whole grain serving. More than 90 percent of adults don't eat the minimum recommended three daily servings of whole grains, and hitting the mark has been linked to a lower risk of nearly every chronic disease, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. Corn also supplies B vitamins, fiber, minerals and the pigment that gives corn its beautiful, bright hue is linked to lung and eye protection. One study found that corn packs nearly twice the antioxidant activity of apples! Just be sure to choose organic corn, which can't be genetically modified and has been shown to be higher in nutrients.
Enjoy : Thaw frozen corn kernels, lay them on a cookie sheet, and roast at 400 F for about 10 minutes or until golden. Serve as is, or sprinkle into a roasted vegetable soup or garden salad. Three cups of popped popcorn also counts as a whole-grain serving. Just add a quarter of a cup of kernels and 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil to a pot, cover and shake, then dust with seasonal spices, like cinnamon and cloves, or a mixture of cocoa and chipotle powders. Or string them, alternating with freeze dried cranberries.
Cranberries: You've probably heard that cranberries help prevent and urinary tract infections and it's true. Cranberries naturally prevent bacteria from being able to stick to the walls of the urinary tract, thus reducing the risk of infection. And that's not all - the same reaction happens in your stomach to prevent ulcers, and in your mouth to fight gum disease. These gorgeous gems also provide vitamin C and have been shown to pack more phenol antioxidants, which fight heart disease and certain cancers, than 19 commonly eaten fruits and veggies.
Enjoy: I adore Just Tomatoes, Etc. freeze-dried cranberries. They're potent, so a little goes a long way, but they're amazing in hot or cold cereal, folded into yogurt along with fresh grated ginger and toasted oats, or as a garnish for roasted winter fruit salad. I also love making fresh cranberry sauce, which I use as a topping for everything from oatmeal to wild rice. I just combine the cranberries with 100 percent orange juice and simmer until the cranberries pop. Then I remove them from the heat and stir in spices including cinnamon, cloves, ginger and orange zest, cool to room temperature, then serve or chill. If you find cranberries to be too bitter, you can add a little organic maple syrup to the orange juice.
Pumpkin: Halloween may be over but pumpkin is still plentiful, and even unsweetened canned pumpkin is a great option. Pumpkin flesh one of the best sources of vitamin A, which serves double duty as both an antioxidant and a vitamin. Vitamin A is needed to form healthy nasal membranes, which serve as a protective barrier against cold and flu bugs. It's also high in filling fiber at 8 grams per cup. And pumpkin seeds contain natural anti-inflammation properties, similar to ibuprofin, as well as zinc, a major mineral involved with immunity and healing.
Enjoy: All year I look forward to whipping up pumpkin smoothies made with canned pumpkin, raw rolled oats, organic soy milk, a little almond butter, real vanilla bean and pumpkin pie spices. And roasted pumpkin seeds are awesome as is or on top of roasted corn or cooked spaghetti squash.
Lima Beans: This oft-overlooked bean packs a pretty powerful weight loss punch. Not only are they high in fiber with 5 grams per half cup, they're also a great source of potassium, a mineral with natural diuretic properties that sweeps excess sodium and fluid to reduce blood pressure and de-bloat your body. And studies show that regular bean-eaters have smaller waistlines and a 22 percent lower risk of obesity.
Enjoy: Steam and add them to a garden salad, or saute with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and onions and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Pink grapefruit: One grapefruit packs more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C needs and the pigment that gives this fruit its pretty pink color is lycopene, the same antioxidant found in tomatoes. Lycopene is linked to protection against heart disease, breast and prostate cancer. And pink grapefruit has been shown to reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol by 20 percent in 30 days. That said, it's important to note that some medications may be affected by grapefruit, so if you're taking any prescriptions, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about food and drug interactions.
Enjoy: In the winter, my favorite way to eat grapefruit is to roast it. Just slice in half, cut a little off the bottom so it won't roll around, place on a cookie sheet and pop it in the oven at 450 F until it looks browned. You can garnish with a little fresh rosemary or cinnamon and enjoy as is, or scoop out the flesh and serve over a small scoop of coconut milk ice cream.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.