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Hot and Healthy Holiday Drinks

Next time you want something hot and delicious to drink, skip the regular old coffee and try one of these soothing drinks.
By Christina Frank
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

There's no better antidote to a day spent circling the mall in a holiday frenzy than coming home, dropping the shopping bags, and wrapping your hands around a mug of something hot and soothing.

Conveniently, it turns out that several traditional warm holiday beverages serve a purpose beyond pure comfort: They're actually good for you! These four classics all contain ingredients with proven health benefits. How joyous is that?

Hot Cocoa

It seemed almost too good to be true when the news broke that chocolate was healthy. One study in the August 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association showed that consuming 3 ounces of dark chocolate daily can lower blood pressure. It's also been shown to increase serotonin levels, which in turn produces a calming, soothing effect (just what's needed in mid December). And cocoa contains potent antioxidants called flavonoids that reduce inflammation, which is involved in heart disease. Plus, it's a rich source of catechins -- antioxidants that may help boost the immune system and prevent disease.

But not all hot chocolates are created equal, cautions Lauren Slayton, MS RD, a nutritionist in New York. The key is to use dark chocolate, which has the highest concentration of good stuff. Look for cocoa mixes that list dark chocolate as their first ingredient, or simply melt a bar of dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa. To make your hot cocoa even healthier, make it with low-fat milk, which cuts fat and calories.

Mulled Wine

Red wine just can't get enough good press, so how lucky that it's found in several warm punch-like libations, including glogg and mulled wine. Studies have shown that powerful antioxidants found in grapes -- flavonoids and resveratrol -- have a bevy of benefits. They have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that might help slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Resveratrol may also reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration, a painless eye disease that affects more than 10 million people in the U.S. It is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 55.

There's also evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower death rates from heart disease. Wine can increase "good" HDL cholesterol and may lower the risk of heart attacks by modestly reducing the ability of blood clots to form in the heart.

Another recent finding, published in the December 2003 issue of the journal Cancer Research, showed that red wine reduces the activity of an enzyme called aromatase, which plays a role in breast cancer.

Apple Cider With Cinnamon

This one boasts two powerhouse ingredients: apples and cinnamon. Recent research done by food scientists at Cornell University found that a nutrient in apples, called quercetin, acts as an antioxidant and protects brain cells from the type of damage that triggers certain n diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Other studies have found that phytochemicals in apples may protect against colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. (Slayton notes that it's important to use only cider that has been pasteurized.)

Cinnamon has been shown to improve glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood, which makes it particularly good for people with type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.

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