3 Holiday Goodies That Are Actually Good for You

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Story Updated: Nov 21, 2012

It's tough not to have food on the brain during the holidays. Walk into a store, open a magazine or sneak a peek at just about any site, and you'll see photos or displays featuring endless varieties of treats and holiday fixings. Plus, all those family gatherings and office parties can sabotage even the best of intentions.

While research shows that most of us gain some weight over the holidays, it doesn't have to be that way. First off, you don't have to cross off some of your favorite foods, thinking they're bad for you just because they taste good. Second, there are ways to fix up your faves so they are healthier.

Here are three foods that get an undeserved bad rap.

1. Popcorn.
After it was revealed that -- horrors! -- a medium-sized movie popcorn bag, along with a medium soda, was equivalent of eating three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter, popcorn got a bad rap.

But you need not forgo your love of the grain. That's right, popcorn is a grain; better yet, a whole grain, meaning it retains its fiber, iron and B vitamins (unlike refined grains, which are stripped of these healthy benefits). Studies show that whole grains may be beneficial for your heart, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight. Compared with other snack foods, popcorn is relatively low in calories.

What not to eat: Shun the movie-style stuff, which is cooked in lots of oil, butter and loaded with salt. Instead, opt for air-popped. Add some flavor by sprinkling with grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese, or a little bit of butter. You'll still come out way ahead in the calorie department.

2. Chocolate.
Long relegated to a bad reputation because of the calories, sugar, fat and caffeine, dark chocolate gets a pass, because it has so many healthy benefits (sorry milk chocolate fans). Why? It contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, which are also abundant in red wine, green tea, fruits and veggies and are associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke.

What not to eat: While the dark stuff may be healthy that doesn't mean you can justify digging into a big slab of chocolate cake or indulge in that Godiva gift box (even if it's stuffed with the dark stuff). A German study that reported on chocolate's health benefits also found that you need only consume about six grams a day, which is the equivalent of about one square of a chocolate bar.

3. Potatoes.
You may think they're unhealthy because they contain carbs, yet one medium-sized potato has just 110 calories and contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol. Potatoes are also a valuable source of potassium (keep the skin on to gain those benefits), Vitamin C, fiber and iron. And of course, there's always that orange-fleshed sweet potato (which can sometimes even taste like dessert!), a rich source of beta carotene, antioxidants and vitamins.

What not to eat: As they say, it's all in the preparation. Mashed potatoes are typically loaded with butter, cream and salt. French fries are high in fat and calories because of the oil they're fried in. Your safest bet is a baked potato topped with plain yogurt or a small dollop of butter. If no Thanksgiving meal is complete without a side of mashed potatoes, substitute light sour cream and chicken broth instead of the cream and butter for a healthier take.

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