Prepare a Fresh and Healthy Holiday Menu With Natural Foods

A few simple substitutions can make your holiday meal much healthier -- and your family may not even notice the difference.
A few simple substitutions can make your holiday meal much healthier -- and your family may not even notice the difference.

Healthy diets are full of fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes, whole grains, unrefined sugars and good-for-you dietary fats. But in a world of expanding waistlines and a holiday gravy habit, it's hard to deny we could do better when it comes to our nutrition. Currently, more than 35 percent of American adults (and about 17 percent of American kids and teens) are considered obese, which means they're at least 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) or more over the healthy weight for their height (and that's not including everyone who hasn't yet been able to lose those extra pounds, or those who are considered overweight but not obese) [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hellmich]. Sure, your weight is based on several things, from your gender and your genetics to your medications and medical conditions, but the bottom line is that we all need a good balance of physical activity and calories to be healthy.

Laugh at the saying, but you really are what you eat. Highly-processed foods and drinks contain a lot of artificial ingredients, refined sugars, saturated (and trans) fats and only a little nutritional value, a cocktail of poor nutrition that leaves you fatter, with an increased risk of developing chronic inflammation and other conditions. Granulated white sugar (table sugar), all-purpose flour and hydrogenated oils are all processed foods, as are artificial flavors and colors. Candy canes, fruitcake and eggnog are not natural foods. Cross them off your holiday menu. Natural foods, however, are foods that have not been processed (or only minimally so). They have no additives, and they are nutrient dense. Natural foods are fresh and healthy foods.

Whether you've already begun to replace processed foods with natural ones, or if you want to kick start a New Year's resolution to eat healthier, it's easy to pull together a holiday feast built around natural foods. A holiday menu can be full of fresh and healthy natural foods while still giving you that classic holiday season feeling. Let's look at ways to add natural foods to the holidays, from easy substitutions to new dishes, including the dessert table.