We all dream of a white Christmas, but our thoughts of snow-covered rooftops are enhanced by visions of red and green. No one's sure why they've become the colours of Christmas, but red and green at the table also herald festive feasts. But fill a plate with colourful foods and you're doing a lot more than pleasing your eyes. Red and green foods -- mainly fruits and vegetables -- are rich in nutrients. They also balance the traditional foods we love with delicious, low-calorie options. Here are our 10 picks for colourful superstars.
The red foods
If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant over the holidays, you'll certainly be concerned about the health of your baby. You may want to consider eating beets: this vegetable is a source of folate, the B vitamin that helps reduce a woman's risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida. Beets also contain potassium and fibre -- and only 50 calories per cup (250 millilitres). Their rich purplish-red colour comes from betacyanins, plant pigments that are being studied as possible cancer-fighting agents. You can enjoy them as a colourful side dish, in a salad, pickled or in a soup.
Give a traditional touch to your holiday table by setting a bowl of crimson cranberry sauce next to the turkey. Cranberries also contain anthocyanins -- phytochemicals that are not only healthy but also responsible for the fruit's brilliant colour. Cranberries provide vitamin C and fibre, plus compounds that appear to help prevent urinary tract infections. There are also studies exploring their heart-protection potential.
There's more than sauce to cranberries; add them to stuffing, nibble on dried cranberries or pour yourself a cool cocktail of cranberry and orange juices mixed with bubbly water.
Open up a pomegranate and you'll find hundreds of edible seeds surrounded by translucent red pulp. The juicy pulp is bursting with flavour as well as vitamin C and more potassium than a medium-size orange. Pomegranates are also rich in anthocyanins and ellagic acid, both powerful plant chemicals that help fight heart disease and cancer. You can slice up a pomegranate, bite into the seeds or remove them to sprinkle into a fruit or vegetable salad. The juice is delicious on its own, as a glaze on poultry, in jams, jellies, sorbets and chutney, or as topping on a baked apple. You can squeeze out the juice using a juicer, or buy it in the refrigerator section of your supermarket.
Sweet red peppers
Red peppers are the darlings of the healthy food basket. They're among the most nutrient-rich vegetables around, each one containing more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, as well as generous amounts of beta-carotene. They're also an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that help lower the risk of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in older adults. They are not just healthy; they're also one of the most versatile vegetables. You can enjoy them raw in salads, make them into a dip, add them to poultry stuffing or roast them for an antipasto platter. What's more, one pepper contains only 25 calories.
The fire-engine red colour of tomatoes comes from lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men. Women may benefit from lycopene, too. Researchers at Harvard University reviewed the diets of about 40,000 women and found that those who ate seven or more servings of tomato-based foods (including tomato juice, tomato paste, tomato sauce or even pizza) a week had a risk of cardiovascular disease that was nearly 30 per cent lower than women who didn't eat these foods as frequently. Tomatoes are also a source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fibre. Enjoy them tossed fresh in salads, roasted as part of an appetizer, in a casserole, as a sauce or as the juice in a festive bloody mary.
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The green stars
Although avocados contain fat, it's heart-friendly monounsaturated fat, similar to that found in olive oil, which helps lower blood-cholesterol levels. They also contain another substance that helps to lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol: beta-sitosterol, one of a group of plant chemicals called phytosterols that have been shown to decrease cholesterol absorption. An excellent source of folate and potassium, avocados also contain vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins and fibre. Rich and wonderful, avocados are great in guacamole, sliced into a salad, spread on bread instead of mayonnaise or diced into salsa.
If you pick only one green vegetable for your holiday dinner, you might want to consider broccoli. One cup of this popular and delicious vegetable gives you about a quarter of your recommended daily vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, more vitamin C than a glass of orange juice, as well as folic acid, calcium and fibre -- all for only 50 calories. Its green colour comes from chlorophyll, which researchers suspect becomes a powerful cancer-fighting agent when broken down by digestion. Broccoli contains many other powerful plant chemicals associated with lowering your risk of disease; for example, sulphurophane is associated with lowering cancer risk and lutein helps prevent sight-destroying macular degeneration. Eat broccoli cooked as a side dish, raw with a dip or in soup before dinner.
Brussels sprouts are another dietary superstar. They're an excellent source of vitamin C (100 milligrams per cup) and a good source of folate, beta-carotene, iron, potassium and fibre -- all for only 60 calories per cup. Brussels sprouts contain plant chemicals called indoles, which may help lower the risk of breast cancer. Brussels sprouts can be steamed or roasted and make a great accompaniment to a main course.
Kale is an unsung hero in the green family. It's an especially good source of calcium (1/2 cup/125 millilitres cooked kale has 95 milligrams), and it's the type of calcium that is more available to our bodies than the calcium found in most other greens. It's rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene and contains the plant chemicals of fellow brassicas such as broccoli. Flavourful kale adds a robust taste when it's simmered in soups or stews and makes a nice side dish sautéed with a bit of oil and garlic.
Spinach is another nutritional gold mine. It's rich in vitamin K, which plays a critical role in normal blood clotting and, according to developing research, may help maintain strong bones in adults by increasing bone density. Spinach is also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin and is rich in beta-carotene, folate and potassium. Serve it cooked or raw, in a salad, soup or dip.