The holidays can be a time to indulge, but it turns out that some seemingly decadent seasonal foods are, in fact, quite good for you. Here are a handful of treats that come with hidden health benefits. Do enjoy these goodies in moderation, of course.
When the mercury dips, a cup of hot cocoa is one of life’s simple pleasures. And giving in to this craving has its benefits. For instance, cocoa contains antioxidants called flavonoids that can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Research shows eating dark chocolate (with a high percent of cocoa solids) can help reduce levels of hormones associated with stress, especially for those with high anxiety. And even the mere sight of chocolate can evoke a smile, according to one British survey.
Make this quick cocoa: Combine 1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon sugar (or the equivalent amount of a natural nonnutritive sweetener) in a mug. Swirl in 1 cup steaming low-fat milk. Spice it up with one of these add-ins: orange peel and ground cloves, ground cardamom and vanilla or chili powder and cinnamon.
Yes, nuts are high in calories and fat but they’re also chock-full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy fats. They’re a super-satisfying snack and add flavor and crunch to any meal. What’s more, research suggests that people who eat nuts—walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts (which are actually legumes)— a few times a week have a lower incidence of heart disease than people who eat them less often. Walnuts in particular are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid linked to heart health and improved mood.
Spice up walnuts with this simple recipe: Place ½ cup of walnuts in a small skillet; heat over medium heat until hot. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons tamari (or reduced-sodium soy sauce) and stir until the nuts are coated and the pan is dry, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Here’s news you can raise a glass to: Drinking in moderation— that’s one drink a day for women, up to two for men— may protect the heart by raising “good” HDL cholesterol, decreasing inflammation and “thinning the blood” (preventing clots that can cause heart attack and stroke). Moderate drinking also increases estrogen, which protects the heart— a benefit particularly helpful to postmenopausal women whose reduced estrogen levels increase their risk of heart disease.
Red wine may offer unique benefits: Research suggests that antioxidants in red wine may reduce the negative impact of high-fat foods by lowering levels of a compound— produced in the body after eating fat— that’s linked with heart disease.
Sip in moderation: Enjoy a 5-ounce glass, preferably with dinner. And despite the health boons, if you don’t already drink, you shouldn’t start.
When extended family is in for the holidays and there’s a crowd of mouths to feed in the morning, there’s no easier breakfast than whole-grain pancakes or waffles— with a side of maple syrup, of course. While you don’t want to drench your stack in syrup (too much of the sweet stuff racks up calories), a little could be a good thing. Maple syrup contains polyphenols, antioxidants that quell the inflammation that’s linked to a slew of health conditions, from cancer to arthritis. Darker grades have the highest levels of antioxidants.
Other ways to savor maple syrup: Sweeten a latte or toss roasted sweet potato wedges with it.
Fresh Gems of the Season
These seasonal produce picks may already have virtuous reputations, but they’re so delish they could count as treats.
Sweet Potatoes: Creamy sweet potatoes are rich in alpha and beta carotene, compounds the body converts into vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system healthy. Choose those with taut, papery skins, tapered ends and a uniform shape and color. Try maple-roasted sweet potatoes for 230% of your recommended daily vitamin A, as well as those polyphenols from the maple syrup.
Cranberries: Beautiful and festive, cranberries are often a highlight of holiday spreads. They’re also a good source of vitamin C and fiber,and deliver several antioxidants associated with cancer prevention. Find fresh bagged cranberries in the produce section. Cranberries can also be kept in your freezer for several months.
Pomegranates: A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds adds a pop of color to any dish, and the juice is rich in antioxidants. Look for pomegranates that feel heavy for their size. They’ll keep at room temperature for up to 3 weeks or refrigerated for up to 2 months.
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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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