Anti-aging probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when it comes to those delicious (and high-calorie) Thanksgiving pies, casseroles and comfort drinks you’ll be enjoying soon. Though the holidays can take a serious toll on your diet, pant size and well, willpower, not all has to be lost.
Here are some superfoods that pack an anti-aging punch and are sure to be found on any holiday buffet or potluck:
1. Sweet Potatoes
Most Americans see sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving, and then forget about them for the rest of the year — and that’s a shame, because this superfood offers up plenty of anti-aging benefits. The orange color of sweet potatoes comes from beta-carotene, which supports eye health and protects against oxidative damage more broadly — it’s even a key player in preventing the damage associated with cancers and cardiovascular disease, and has been shown to lower the risk of heart attacks in men. Rich in vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes also encourage cell turnover; in fact, vitamin A is actually found in many anti-aging products. The mineral copper, another nutrient found in sweet potatoes, has been known to increase collagen production, which gives skin its elasticity and firmness.
And there’s no reason to gum up these potatoes with marshmallows, sugar, or butter. They’re delicious in stews, or simply roasted and topped with a bit of cinnamon.
Not everyone is a fan of this slight bitter, tart fruit. But come holiday time, cranberries make an appearance in everything from festive cocktails to tangy sauces. Blueberries may be a commonly-touted superfood, but this berry offers up comparable health benefits. Not only is the fruit low in calories (half a cup has only 25 calories!), it also has more antioxidants than broccoli and spinach, according to WebMD. The antioxidants in cranberries not only help fight cell damage, which occurs with age, but they also fight inflammation, a key cause in many diseases. What’s more, Yale University researchers said in a study from last year that inflammation is causally linked to aging. Other health benefits of consuming cranberries include lowered risk of urinary tract infections, prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, decreased blood pressure and more.
Cranberry cheesecake probably isn’t the best way to optimize the nutritional value of this superfood, so try to stick to the berry in it’s simplest form and opt for it in juices — as long as there isn’t a ton of added sugar. You can also sprinkle dried cranberries on top of salads and cereals, or mix them with nuts to make a nutrient-packed holiday snack.
Beets might not be the most sinful of the holiday foods, but they’re definitely a good option. The brightly-colored plant root is bursting with vitamins A and C, as well as iron, manganese and fiber. Beets also contain betaine, a compound that nutritionists say slows the aging process by preventing cell damage and reducing inflammation throughout the body. The high concentration of carotenoids in beets helps fight age-related macular degeneration and keep vision strong, while naturally-occurring folic acid helps break up homocysteine, a dangerous blood protein that contributes to heart disease. Eating beets has also been shown to improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure, and aid in weight loss. Some studies have even suggested beet juice can help increase your endurance — perfect for your post-Thanksgiving gym visits.
Beets can be eaten raw or cooked; try roasting them to bring out their natural sweetness. And don’t simply throw away the green leafy tops to your beets, as these are among the healthiest part of the plant. Besides containing important nutrients like protein, phosphorus, zinc, fiber, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, beet greens also supply significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
4. Green Beans
Green beans really are the unsung, overlooked hero on your holiday buffet table. Despite a very low calorie-count (just 31 calories in a cup), this vegetable — most commonly found in the form of green bean casserole — is a great source of nutrients including vitamin C and the mineral silicon. Vitamin C protects your cells from damage by free radicals, while silicon is central to bone health and connective tissue, including skin. Green beans are also rich in vitamin A, which helps fight off the signs of skin aging such as wrinkles, fine lines, dull skin and age spots. They also contain vitamin K, a nutrient shown to enhance the body’s absorption of calcium and assist in preventing bone density loss and osteoporosis.
It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without our favorite casserole — so instead of giving it up in favor of plain green beans, opt for a skinnier version of the classic or try this “paleo-friendly” vegan option.
5. Root Veggies
Root veggies — including garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, beets and parsnips — are often (literally) overshadowed by the Thanksgiving turkey. But although some simply think of them as garnish for the centerpiece, these nutritional powerhouses are hidden treasures worthy of your notice. Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. Carrots in particular have benefits that are more than just skin deep; in addition to antioxidant vitamins A and C, they are also rich in beta carotene, which can help protect your eyes from macular degeneration. Parsnips are rich in folate, a nutrient that your body needs to have healthy hair, while rutabaga — an accidental vegetable resulting from a chance hybridization of turnips and cabbage — packs a mega-dose of vitamin C. Garlic’s health benefits, many of which come from its sulfur compounds, are widely documented. Some of these sulfur-containing molecules, polysulfides, are converted by red blood cells into hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which dilates the blood vessels, helping to regulate blood pressure.
Fall is peak season for root vegetables; when in-season, they have a deeper, sweeter flavor and tend to be juicier. However, root vegetables are one of the few plants that seem to stay consistently great all year long. Selecting good root vegetables is the opposite of selecting good fruit – the harder, the better. They should be smooth and free of gashes or bruises. When choosing roots that come with leafy greens (a bunch of beets, for example), make sure the stems and leaves of the greens are firm and bright. Because their earthy flavor makes them less suitable to consume raw, root vegetables are best when roasted, grilled, or steamed/boiled — or you can try them in a delicious winter stew.