Surprising Health Benefits in Those Decadent Holiday Foods

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
by Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
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Surprising Health Benefits in Those Decadent Holiday Foods

You’ve probably heard it all before when it comes to indulgent holiday foods — “so high in calories!” … “so fattening!” … “really ‘bad’ for you!” … “guilty pleasure!” — I could go on. But, what if we turned the tables a bit (pun intended) and spoke about the health benefits of some popular holiday foods? I promise you, they exist. Diet culture just gets in the way a lot of the time. Below are some of my favorite holiday foods and the nutrients they contain to better support health.


Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes? They are quite possibly the world’s most perfect and versatile side dish. Before potatoes got such a tarnished reputation (thanks, diet culture), they were often thought of as a nutrient-dense food. And, they still are! Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, an important mineral and electrolyte that helps nerves and muscles (including the heart!) function properly, and may help regulate blood pressure. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. To reap all the benefits of the fiber in potatoes, like better digestion and satiety, make sure to cook (and mash!) them with the skin.


To be frank, this is not my favorite side dish. But, I know I might be in the minority. Aside from all of the creamy goodness, green bean casserole does have some health benefits, thanks to its key ingredient: green beans. Green beans are a good source of fiber, as well as vitamins C and A, and the mineral manganese. Green beans also contain soluble fiber, which may help keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range. What’s more, the fat in the cream of mushroom soup used in traditional green bean casserole can help the body absorb vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin.


I know what you’re saying here: the word candy is in the actual name of this dish. How can it possibly be good for you? It’s true candied yams can be quite high in sugar, but let’s dissect them a little bit and focus on the yams first. Like white potatoes, yams are an excellent source of potassium. They are also high in vitamin C, B6, A and a great source of fiber. They are most nutrient-dense when eaten with their skin, so that’s a tweak you can make to your candied yam recipe to make it more nutritious. If you’re making them yourself, halving the sugar won’t affect the taste too much and it allows the natural sweetness of the yams to shine!


I am fully in the camp that red meats should be limited to help reduce the risk of chronic disease and cancer. However, a once in a while burger or holiday rib roast is A-OK, especially if they come from quality organic, grass-fed and finished beef. Rib roast is certainly not lacking in nutrients, as it is a great source of complete protein, which your body can easily absorb and utilize. Rib roast is also a good source of vitamin B12 and an excellent source of iron, which is especially important for women in their childbearing years when they have a higher likelihood of iron deficiency. Rib roast is, of course, higher in saturated fat as red meats tend to be, but pairing your portion with colorful vegetables and whole grains is a great, balanced strategy.

CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > These decadent holiday foods do have nutritional benefits, according to our RD via @MyFitnessPal. #MyFitnessPal


Pecan pie is a rich and decadent holiday dessert and it tends to be on the higher end when it comes to sugar. However, part of the reason pecan pie is also higher in calories is that pecans are an excellent source of healthy, monounsaturated fats. This is yet another reason to not think so much about calories, but nutrients, and what foods can do for your body (and soul!). Aside from heart-healthy fats, pecans themselves pack a ton of vitamins and minerals, like zinc, thiamine, copper and magnesium. Pecans are also a good source of blood sugar-stabilizing fiber.


When it comes to nutrition and health, you have to look at the big picture. You are not eating any of these or other holiday “indulgences” in a vacuum, right? You are likely eating them as part of your normal diet — unless diet culture gets creates unnecessary fear and restriction. All food has some nutritional benefits, as I’ve outlined here. But what’s more important is what they may represent to you and your family, like togetherness during the holidays. That’s nourishing to the soul, and we need those types of health benefits in our lives as well.

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About the Author

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
Kelly Hogan, MS, RD

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD is an NYC-based registered dietitian specializing in women’s health, sports nutrition and plant-based eating. She is passionate about helping people develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies, and uses a non-diet approach in her practice. When she’s not talking or writing all things nutrition, Kelly can be found running in Central Park – she’s run 11 marathons and counting! – cooking recipes new and old, handstanding at the yoga studio or hanging with friends and/or her rescue dog, Peanut.


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