Healthify Your Holiday Feast With 3 Surprising Foods

by | Read time: 3 minutes

Interested in making holiday mealtime more virtuous without skimping on taste? It’s doable, and with little effort. We tapped Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian in the New York City area and owner of Plant-Based Eats. Below are her top picks and no-sweat tips for including them in your dining mix.

3 Pomegranate-Topped Yogurt Cups on Red Dotted Napkin to Represent Foods That Boost Your Immune System |

Holiday Foods That Boost Your Immune System

Shiitake mushrooms

“Many people don’t know that shiitake mushrooms are one of the few food sources of naturally occurring vitamin D,” Gorin says. This sourcing is especially relevant during winter, when daylight is scarce, and even if sunshine triumphs over clouds, it’s too cold in much of the northern hemisphere to soak up rays outside in a t-shirt so that your skin can manufacture its own vitamin D.

Eden Foods Dried | micronutrient is important for so many things, from immune health to bone health, Gorin notes. “Vitamin D helps your immune cells fight off bacteria and viruses that make their way into the body.”

Shiitakes also have lentinan, a complex sugar that has been shown to help the immune system, potentially slowing tumor growth. There’s more: Mushrooms of all sorts, including the ordinary white, have myconutrients that studies show boost immune function.

Plus, as for nutrition in general, shiitakes provide protein, fiber and several other vitamins and nutrients for very few calories, Gorin adds.

Try it

Gorin loves shiitake mushrooms simply roasted or grilled, easy work that makes for a no-fuss holiday side dish. Add some herbs, a little olive oil and a tiny bit of salt, if you’d like.


Vitacost Certified Organic Garbanzo Beans | offer enormous bang for the buck, given they’re inexpensive and easy to prepare (or no-prep, if they’re canned), but they’re loaded with nutrients and micronutrients: protein, fiber, calcium and more.

“This food is an excellent source of zinc—and one of the best vegetarian sources of zinc,” Gorin says. In fact, legumes in general are loaded with zinc.

“Zinc is a mineral that’s important for the development of some of the cells that are in charge of defending your body against toxins or foreign substances that threaten your immunity,” Gorin says. In other words, zinc keeps your immune system on track.

Try it

Chickpeas are a staple in hummus and get tossed in soups. But consider a different approach.

“I love to roast chickpeas and either eat them as a snack or as a salad topper in lieu of croutons,” Gorin says.

If you want to step up flavor, toss your chickpeas with some sesame oil, canola oil or olive oil, and then sprinkle garlic powder, salt and paprika on them. To roast, spread the beans evenly in an oven-safe pan or dish. Bake at about 400 degrees (no higher) until they start to brown, 15-35 minutes, depending on volume (check them periodically).

Pomegranate arils

R.W. Knudsen Family Organic Just Pomegranate | is a seasonal fruit—grab it now!—with immune-helping vitamin C (plus other antioxidants). To be sure, lots of fruits and veggies contain vitamin C, but it’s nice to have a break from ubiquitous citrus, especially during special once-a-year holidays.

“Vitamin C is important to get from the food you eat, or supplements, because your body is unable to synthesize it on its own,” Gorin says. “It’s important not only for helping to keep your immune system flourishing—it may also reduce the length and severity of symptoms of the common cold.”

Try it

These ruby gems glam up a dish while adding sweet-sour flavor. Get a healthful start on your holiday feast, by making chia pudding the night before, a cinch of a task that packs in nutrition. Refrigerate, and  the next morning dot your healthy breakfast with the arils before eating it.

Later in the day, if a chocolate dessert is in your holiday meal line-up, brighten its presentation with a handful of arils, another Gorin favorite you can pull off in a snap.

Mitra Malek is a news journalist and former Yoga Journal editor who writes about wellness.