Surprisingly Healthful Seasonal Treats

Hidden health benefits of the season’s best treats.

Surprisingly Healthful Seasonal Treats

By EatingWell

The holidays can be a time to indulge, but it turns out that some of those seemingly decadent seasonal foods are, in fact, quite good for you. Here are a handful of treats that come with hidden health benefits. 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 may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Research shows eating dark chocolate (with a high percent of cocoa solids) may help reduce levels of hormones associated with stress, especially for those with anxiety.

Make this quick cocoa: Combine 1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon sugar (or the equivalent amount of a natural noncaloric 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)—at least 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.

Red Wine
Here’s news you can raise a glass to: drinking in moderation—that’s no more than one drink a day for women, or two for men—may protect the heart by raising “good” HDL cholesterol, decreasing inflammation and lessening the formation of clots that can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sip in moderation: If you enjoy a 5-ounce glass with dinner, sip away: you’re likely gaining some health benefits. But if you don’t currently drink, don’t bother with picking up the habit: experts don’t recommend starting to drink alcohol just for its potential health benefits. If you drink more than a moderate amount, talk with your doctor: the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption don’t always outweigh the risks.

Maple Syrup
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 pure 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 can quell the inflammation that’s linked to a slew of health conditions, such as cancer and 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.

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.

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.

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 three weeks or refrigerated for up to two months.

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