Health & Wellbeing
Holiday Food Traditions from Around the World
Afaf Qasem, MS, RDN, LDN
Afaf Qasem, MS, RDN, LDN
Community Wellness Dietitian Sodexo at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare

The United States is known for being the world’s melting pot, where diverse cultures and religions from all over the world live together. The authentic ingredients and spices I share below are ones that various cultures cook with during the holiday season. You can add any of these to your favorite dishes! The small changes you make can have a lasting impact on your health.

Let’s start with my native country, Palestine

Palestine is known for its beautiful olive trees. In many Palestinian homes, olive oil is in and on everything, so you can only imagine how many holiday dishes include it!

Olive oil has many benefits— it’s rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, contains large amounts of antioxidants, has strong anti-inflammatory properties, it’s protective against heart disease, and has antibacterial properties. While it is a healthy fat, it’s also high in calories so use it in moderation. Try adding olive oil to sauces, like pasta sauce or to a salad dressing—olive oil, lemon, and a pinch of salt.


Curry is a popular spice in Indian cuisine and is used in many holiday dishes. Did you know? It’s high in antioxidants, which help build a healthy immune system and fight-off chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many others. So, next time you are making a dish, think about adding curry to your sauce or spice up your chicken with it.


Lentils are served on New Year’s Eve after midnight. The lentils, with their coin-like shape, represent luck and prosperity. The dish is often served with pork sausage. Pork signifies the fat or bounty of the land. Lentils have 8g of fiber and 8g of protein in just half a cup. Fiber is important for digestion. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Lentils are a great substitution for starches, such as rice and pasta. Drink plenty of water to help with digestion and moving along the fiber!

Costa Rica

The Costa Rican holiday dessert is often a tropical fruit salad of some sort that usually includes pineapple, bananas, watermelon, and papaya. Papaya is an excellent source of antioxidants and is high in vitamins C and A, and fiber. Next time you make a fruit salad, try adding some papaya.


A traditional treat served in Sweden during Christmas is cardamom bread, a sweet yeast bread. Cardamom is a spice that has a pungent sweet flavor. You can put it in many dishes, like soups, sauces, and baked goods. Cardamom can help the body get rid of toxins as well as boost the immune system.


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