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The 10 Healthiest Party Foods: A Holiday Party Guide
It's one of the simplest party foods to make: Top a small slice of Italian bread with a gorgeous mixture of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and basil and voila — you've got bruschetta. And though that piece of bread doesn't yield much nutritional value, the marriage of tomatoes and olive oil scores top marks for disease prevention. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found to ward off cancer and heart disease. You've no doubt heard about the healthy fats found in olive oil — well, in addition, that oil actually helps your body absorb some of the nutrients in the tomatoes, says Melinda Johnson, RD, National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Smoked Salmon on Toasts
In a word: omega-3s. These essential fatty acids are found only in a few foods, and salmon is one of the richest sources out there. Omega-3s help keep blood pressure down, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, stave off heart disease, and if that's not enough, they give your skin that healthy, dewy glow. The American Heart Association recommends eating an omega-3 source twice a week, so helping yourself to this delicious party snack means one more thing you can cross off of your "to do" list.
If you've got your choice of several dip options, this one should win every time. Gracias, Mexico, for contributing this incredibly tasty finger food to cocktail parties the world over, saving health-minded party goers mucho calories. Salsa's main ingredients — tomatoes, peppers, and lime — are all jam-packed with vitamins A and C, loaded with fiber, and super low-calorie.
Avocado plays the starring role in guacamole, which is why it's loaded with heart-healthy fats and valuable nutrients such as beta-sitosterol, a natural plant sterol which can decrease your levels of bad cholesterol. However, this dish is sometimes made with cream cheese, the saturated fat content of which can outweigh the unsaturated fats in the avocado. Johnson's advice: If you are unsure of the guac's contents, stick to just a few small spoonfuls to satisfy the craving and move on.
Jumbo on protein and skimpy on fat and calories, this little crustacean may just be the best party appetizer there is. With just a few shrimp on your plate, you are less likely to gorge on the fattier options presenting themselves to you, because protein keeps you satisfied for longer. Shrimp also contains the mineral zinc, a rarity in finger food, which helps promote a strong immune system. As for the cocktail sauce, don't overdo it. Bottled sauces often contain unhealthy amounts of sugar. Try dipping them in salsa instead.
Vegetables and Dip
Here's an ultra-safe strategy for party munching: load up three-quarters of your plate with the veggies from the crudite platter. You'll be so busy chowing down on carotenoids, which are strong sources of vitamin A, that you'll forget how healthy you're being. And here's the bonus: You don't have to totally forgo that creamy ranch dip. Studies show that adding a little bit of fat to your veggies helps the body absorb the nutrients in the healthy selections you've made. "Don't stay away from the dip entirely, just don't douse your vegetables with it," says Johnson.
Play the following party game: pick up sticks. Of chicken, that is. The meat contained in this Asian-inspired appetizer is usually skinless and grilled, and therefore contains few calories or fat. Plus, the most popular seasoning is a teriyaki glaze, which flavors the meat with less than a teaspoon of sugar. Just one ounce of chicken from this app will give you almost 9 grams of protein, keeping you satisfied enough not to reach for those tempting pigs-in-a-blanket.
"This is a low-fat item that, because of the white rice, will keep you satisfied," says Johnson. The pieces with salmon or tuna inside deliver those coveted omega-3s, but even the fishless variety contains a healthy slice of cucumber or other veggie. The seaweed that hugs the rice, called nori, also packs a nutritious punch, as it contains minerals from the sea. Just make sure the sushi at the party is the freshest possible — take a pass if it's been sitting out since you walked in. Also steer clear if the pieces are fried (tempura) or contain cream cheese.
Fruit and Cheese
Women require 1000mg of calcium a day, which is all the more reason to hang out by the cheese platter. One or two good-size cheddar cheese chunks will give you roughly 120mg, but they do add up in the fat and calorie department, so don't go nuts. Hard cheeses like cheddar yield more calcium — and more calories — than soft cheeses like brie or goat. For fruit, load up on strawberries, pineapples, or kiwis for an extra wallop of vitamin C and an immunity boost.
If the guy at the bar is monopolizing the conversation with his extensive knowledge of pinots, cabernets, and merlots, here's a little fact to throw in: Red wine is chock-full of polyphenol, a compound found in the skin of red grapes that aids circulation, lowers blood pressure, and promotes overall heart health. Sweeter wines will have a few more calories than the dry varietals, as will those with higher alcohol content (around 14 to 15 percent). Cut your calories in half by ordering a spritzer — half wine, half seltzer.
Unless the mix is honey-roasted (and therefore coated in sugar), you can consider the nut bowl fair game. Indulging in a few small scoops of plain nuts can give you a nice dose of vitamins, fiber, and protein to keep you full. If you spy some sunflower or pumpkin seeds in there, even better — they're high in vitamin E, which works wonders for circulation, skin, and even PMS.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, November 2008.