How Family Gatherings and Good Food Can Improve Your Health
While we all continue to craft a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, looking forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holiday season is enough to raise anyone’s spirits. And there’s scientific evidence that it can do a lot more than that, too.
When it comes to gathering among family, friends and delicious meals, here are some health benefits to look forward to over the holidays.
Popular Holiday Dishes With Undeniable Nutritional Value
Plenty of common recipes made during Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday celebrations can be made with nutritional value in mind. For example, cooking with herbs and spices rather than salt is a great way to limit your sodium intake without sacrificing flavor.
Other healthy food options this time of year might include:
Your healthy food options
Turkey or Other Healthy Proteins
Always opt for roasting rather than frying and use healthy oils when it comes to turkey, a protein full of iron, zinc, potassium and B6. Removing turkey skin and choosing the light, healthy meat will make it more digestible and keep it leaner for anyone concerned about a low-fat diet.
Not a fan of turkey? Try a fatty fish like salmon — a source of omega-3 fatty acids, important in heart health. While ham can be high in salt content, baked ham contains helpful vitamins like niacin, B12 and thiamine.
Skip the canned version of this superfood that contains tons of fiber and antioxidants, as well as vitamins E, K and C. In fact, one single serving of cranberries will give older adults nearly a quarter of the vitamin C they need in an entire day. If you’re making cranberry sauce, consider replacing sugar with honey or coconut sugar. Cranberries are also proven to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.
While buttery, creamy mashed potatoes can take the spotlight on any Thanksgiving table, the starchy side is too high on the glycemic index for many older adults. While potatoes are a fine source of vitamin C and copper, with just a little garlic and butter, mashed cauliflower can mimic the flavor and appearance of mashed potatoes. As a cruciferous venerable, cauliflower is jam-packed with cancer-preventing antioxidants, as well as protein, magnesium, vitamins C and K, fiber and potassium.
Sweet Potatoes & Root Vegetables
Not thrilled with the idea of cauliflower as a potato imposter? Try the naturally sweetened sweet potato — full of manganese, copper, potassium, fiber and vitamins A, C and B6.
Other root vegetables — like carrots, parsnips and turnips — can be roasted in the oven. These root vegetables contain a ton of bone-health-boosting vitamin A, which is also essential for eye health.
Green beans are the perfect side dish, high in fiber, folic acid, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium and vitamins A, C, K and B6. Skip the can of creamed mushroom and, instead, roast green beans or grill them.
If green beans aren’t your family’s vegetable of choice, try roasted broccoli, also high in calcium. Brussels sprouts are also delicious roasted with some olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar. And if you’re making a salad, move away from the standard iceberg lettuce and choose some leafy spinach, which can help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease.
Keep the sweetness coming without the processed sugars. Nix the apple pie and make a light apple crisp with cinnamon apples and a crumbled oat topping. Baked apples and other fruit will always taste nice and sweet without leaning on processed sugar for flavor.
Expressing Gratitude Has Transformational Benefits
Gratitude and being thankful can lead to improved physical and psychological health, with studies showing grateful people have fewer aches and pains.
“The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, University of California professor of psychology. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”
The ability to be grateful and think positively can also lead to lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and a better quality of sleep.
The Mental and Emotional Benefits of Being Social
If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that spending time with family can change your outlook on life. In fact, time with family, especially younger loved ones, has the power to improve your health. Studies show that being around children has cognitive, emotional and physical benefits for older adults.
A Cornell University gerontologist asked 2,000 people over the age of 65 to divulge their best advice, and one of the most prevalent responses was to stay social, according to a report from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
When generations of families come together (even safely, under current circumstances), they can learn from one another, with studies showing such interactions can provide older adults with a greater sense of purpose, higher rates of satisfaction and minimized signs of depression.
Wrapping up a holiday evening with a nice group walk or some energetic family games is a perfect way to round out all the benefits that boost older adults’ health this special time of year.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The above is meant to be strictly educational and not intended to provide medical advice or solicit the sales of an insurance product or service of any kind.