It turns out that some seemingly decadent wintertime 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 percentage of cocoa solids) can help reduce levels of hormones associated with stress, especially for people with high anxiety.
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 that’s linked to heart health and improved mood.
3. Red wine
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.
4. Maple syrup
On winter mornings, there’s no better 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.
Fresh produce to pick:
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. Try them roasted with a little olive oil and a bit of honey or maple syrup for an extra-special side.
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 three weeks or refrigerated for up to two months.