Seven Vegetarian Holiday Superfoods for the Gut

holiday superfoods

Have you heard that tart cherries are the new superfood? Along with nutmeg, apples, and cranberries, many classic holiday foods have wonderful health properties.

Today, the term “superfood” does not have a standardized definition and is mainly used by manufacturers as a marketing strategy. The trendy name suggests that these foods are hyper-concentrated with health-promoting substances beyond vitamins and minerals…but are they?

As vegetarianism and plant-based eating continues to grow so does the need to transform classic holiday meals into festive and celebratory affairs. Going to traditional holiday gatherings can turn into high-stress situations for vegetarians who don’t have the options they need. If you are still trying to figure out how to avoid “food FOMO” [fear of missing out] at holiday gatherings, check out these seven super foods that are brimming with seasonal flavor and have antioxidants and other health properties.

  • Asparagus: This Christmas tree colored powerhouse is more than just the vitamin A, C, E, and K it represents on the surface. Asparagus also contains prebiotic fibers for digestive and gut health and an amino acid called asparagine that may help maintain normal brain development and function.
  • Ginger: This herb adds an extra layer of protection during the flu season or that winter cold as it supports the immune system.  It is a potent anti-inflammatory, prokinetic (enhances movement of food in the gut) and classic antiemetic (prevents vomiting) that can be used for morning sickness orreducing bloating and gas after meals.
  • Cranberries: While it is mostly consumed on Thanksgiving Day, many indulge on this holiday side dish again for Christmas. In the late 1800s, this exceedingly tart fruit gained popularity to treat urinary tract complaints. Research revealed that cranberries keep bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder and urethra because of the powerful compounds called proanthocyanidins present in this superfood.
  • Cinnamon: The warm, sweet fragrance of cinnamon screams holiday baked dishes. It has also been used medicinally since ancient times. In modern Chinese medicine, cinnamon is thought to help circulative vital energy (qi) in the abdomen and through the body. Indian Ayurvedic healers use cinnamon primarily for digestive and menstrual complaints. More recently, cinnamon has been shown to have  blood sugar lowering effect and may help stabilize levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Artichoke leaves: in herbal medicine, artichoke leaves are considered “bitters” or herbs with properties that speed up digestive process. Artichoke leaves are also an excellent source of fructooligosaccharides, which are prebiotics that serve as the “food” for probiotics, and can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol as well as support gut health
  • Turmeric: The plant part that is used in cooking is called rhizome. This spice is in the same family as ginger and contains compounds known as curcuminoids (collectively known as curcumin), which accounts for its characteristic bright orange color. This superfood may have protective effects against colorectal cancer, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease shown in some studies.

Whether you are new to vegetarianism or a veteran plant-eater, in today’s marketplace you have a wide selection of foods that can be used in many traditional holiday dishes and provide health benefits beyond the nutrition value. As an integrative dietitian and foodie, I encourage you to bring one new superfood dish to your holiday gatherings; this might be the new dish that catches your guests’ attention and becomes a new delicious holiday tradition.

References

  • American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Functional foods. J. Amer. Diet. Assoc. 2009;109(4):735-746.
  • Yunhua S., Nicholas R. R.,  Alireza A., Taylor K. et. al. Determination of Asparagine to Aspartate Destabilizer Cu, Zn Superoxide Dismutase, Accelerated Fibrillization, and Mirrors ALS-Linked Mutations. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013; 135 (42):15897–15908.
  • Khandouzi N, Shidfar F, Rajab A, Rahideh T, Hosseini P, Mir Taheri M. The Effects of Ginger on Fasting Blood Sugar, Hemoglobin A1c, Apolipoprotein B, Apolipoprotein A-I and Malondialdehyde in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Iranian J Pharm. Research : IJPR. 2015;14(1):131-140.
  • Ângelo Luís, Fernanda Domingues, Luísa Pereira, Can Cranberries Contribute to Reduce the Incidence of Urinary Tract Infections? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Trial Sequential Analysis of Clinical Trials, J. Urology, 2017, 198, 3, 614
  • Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003;26:3215–8.
  • Kawamori T, Lubet R, Steele VE. Chemopreventative effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer. Cancer Res. 1999;59:597–01.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN

Nazirber De La Cruz is a bilingual registered dietitian and nutritionist that use an integrative approach to healing. She believes that healthy and delicious food should be enjoyed at any stage in life and that an eating plan should fit and satisfy your needs and lifestyle. Nazirber provides individualized medical nutrition therapy for gastrointestinal conditions, weight management, cardiovascular health, fatty liver, and diabetes. Nazirber has counseled a variety of patients including children, teenagers, families, adults and the elderly, in both English and Spanish in the U.S. and abroad. Nazirber received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition from The City University of New York at Lehman College and completed her dietetic residency through Wellness Workdays with a concentration in worksite wellness and health promotion. She runs her own private practice in Queens, New York alongside a gastroenterologist and liver specialist. On her spare time she teaches Zumba® and AcroYoga in the New York City area.

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