Greens and black-eyed peas
Food

5 Southern holiday traditions that are actually good for you

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December 7, 2023

Butter. Salt. Sugar. But wait — It’s not all bad news! We’ve rounded up some healthy Southern customs to enjoy this holiday season. Dig in, y’all!

It’s sad, but true: Usually we associate the holidays with extra calories, especially Southern dishes loaded with butter, cream, sugar or fat. However, that’s not universally true. Keep reading for some tasty seasonal traditions that are guilt-free. Try adding them to your holiday traditions this year.

Oranges

Receiving an orange in your stocking is a longstanding Christmas tradition in Europe and America. This stocking stuffer became even more iconic when, during the Great Depression, fresh fruit became hard to come by in the rural South. Oranges became almost a luxury item. Until the economy stabilized and more economical methods of transporting nonperishable foods were developed, citrus was an expensive treat to be savored.

Over time, oranges became holiday tradition, and today, for many families, the idea of having a Christmas stocking without an orange just doesn’t feel complete.

Citrus is an excellent source of vitamin C, which is part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Oysters

The custom of eating oyster stew on Christmas Eve can be traced back to different cultures — from Irish to Native American traditions. Oysters harvested in winter are fat and large, thanks to cooler waters. They are a staple this time of year and perfect in a stew or a savory oyster dressing. Before the advent of modern refrigeration, it was also easier to safely transport oysters inland from coastal waters to the Mid-South during the winter months.

Oysters are low in calories and provide a nice dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which protect the heart, and are the highest food-based source of zinc, which can help boost the immune system.

Pecans

Pecan orchards are plentiful in the South, and growers harvest the favored nut October through December. They’re included in everything from salads to desserts (some of them healthy) during the holiday season.

Nuts like pecans are packed with vitamins and minerals including magnesium, which supports important aspects of your body’s overall functioning. Nuts also provide a little extra protein and healthy fat to your diet.

Ambrosia

This salad (or dessert) — often sliced oranges and pecans layered with grated coconut and a little sugar — is a favorite Southern holiday tradition. Where it came from, exactly, is a little hazy, but it’s adopted home is clearly the South. There are many ways to make it, and you can keep your version healthy by going heavy on the fruit and light on the dressing and being conservative with (or skipping!) the marshmallows.

Traditional recipes call for coconut, which adds zinc and iron to your diet, which can help prevent anemia.

Black-eyed peas and collard greens

Need some luck? In the South, legend has it that consuming black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good fortune. Add some collard greens to your plate for prosperity. The black-eyed peas are loaded with fiber, and the greens are rich in vitamin K (good for bone health) and vitamin A (good for your eyes and organ functioning).

What a great way to kick off a new year!