The Spectrum of Healthy Foods, by Charlyn Fargo

The holiday season can make it hard to keep up with healthy eating. There is such an abundance of food, gatherings, desserts, and temptations. When the table is laden with mashed potatoes, casseroles, turkey, ham, ribs, pumpkin pie, and red velvet cake, it can be confusing to determine which traditional holiday foods can contribute to good health. While Thanksgiving may be behind us, there will be other times to gather with family and friends during the holiday season.

It’s good to remember that one splurge day won’t ruin the benefits of a healthy dietary pattern. Try to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, herbs and spices, yogurt, and seafood, which are on the “healthy” end of the spectrum. Dishes that contain those ingredients will be healthier options than those made with refined flour and have higher amounts of added sugar or salt.

Consider a spectrum of healthy foods: While a slice of apple pie is mostly made up of added sugars and refined carbohydrates, it also has the vitamins, minerals, and fiber of apples. Apple pie would never be considered a health food, but it might rank higher than a sugary drink or piece of cake. It’s true that pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce have added sugars, but they also have beneficial fruit and fiber compounds compared to white bread or white potatoes.

The key is to put food (and meals) in perspective. The fiber, vitamins, and minerals in a slice of pumpkin pie make it a better choice than some foods, but it’s nowhere near as wholesome as fruits or vegetables. But everyone can fit into a healthy eating pattern. Choose a wide variety of foods and make them healthier if you can. Can you use less sugar in sweet potatoes? Can you top sweet potatoes with walnuts instead of marshmallows? Can you add some extra vegetables to the filling? Can you choose a smaller portion of pumpkin pie and skip the whipped cream? Can you add a salad to the table to balance out some of the sweets?

And remember, taking a family walk can also balance out the extra food you can eat.

Happy holidays from my house to yours!

Q and A

Q: Are non-dairy milks, frozen veggie burgers, and fresh seasoned fish processed foods? Should they be avoided?

A: Think of processed foods in categories. There are minimally processed foods (whole foods that have been slightly modified to make them edible, safe, or more enjoyable to eat), and there are ultra-processed foods (industrial formulations made primarily of sugar, starch, fat, protein, hydrogenated fat, starch, etc.). modified and flavor enhancers, artificial colors and stabilizers). A frozen fish fillet is minimally processed; however, fish fingers would be considered highly processed. The amount of processing in a veggie burger can vary, but if they imitate meat, they are considered ultra-processed. According to a 2021 study, 90% of plant-based beverages marketed as “milks” meet the criteria for ultra-processed foods, including 95% of almond milks. That doesn’t mean you should avoid all ultra-processed foods, but check labels and choose brands with less salt, sugar, and refined flour.


Here’s a winter salad to add to your holiday gatherings. It’s from Cooking Light’s Christmas cookbook. Pair it with turkey chili or chicken and corn soup for a great light meal to balance out the days when calories are more abundant. You can use any fresh fruit, such as apples, blueberries, and orange slices.


Servings: 6

2 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1/2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 cups of mixed greens salad

1 cup grapefruit wedges

1 cup thinly sliced ​​red onions

1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the first 9 ingredients, from vinegar to salt, to make the dressing. Shake well. Combine salad greens, grapefruit, onion, and walnuts in a large bowl. Drizzle with vinegar mixture; shake. Makes: 6 servings (Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups).

Per serving: 80 calories; 3 grams of protein; 8.1 grams of carbohydrates; 4.7 grams of fat; 0 grams of cholesterol; 2.4 grams of fiber; 75 milligrams of sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at SIU Med School in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To learn more about Charlyn Fargo and to read articles by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at

Photo credit: kaboompics on Pixabay

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