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?
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.
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.)
Can something as rich and yummy as eggnog really be good for you? Yes, but make it with skim or low-fat milk so it doesn't have as many calories and fat. And of course, calcium is also great for keeping bones strong. The eggs provide a good dose of protein and lutein, an antioxidant that has been touted for preventing vision problems.
No-Sugar-Added Minty Hot Cocoa
Recipe provided by Executive Chef Marc Gilberti and Molly Kimball, LSN, RD, at Ochsner Clinic's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-2 packets of Splenda sweetener (to desired sweetness)
- Dash of salt
- 1 cup 1% milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Mix cocoa, Splenda, and salt in large mug. Heat milk in microwave for 1-1/2 minutes, until hot. Gradually add hot milk to cocoa mixture in mug, stirring until well blended. Stir in vanilla and peppermint. Yields 1 serving.
- 4 cups skim milk
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 3/4 cups of Splenda
- 2-3 tablespoons of brandy, bourbon, or amaretto
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup light whipping cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Beat the eggs, Splenda, and salt in a bowl. Stir in skim milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture coats a metal spoon. Remove from heat.
Stir in alcohol of choice, vanilla, and ground nutmeg. Before serving, beat light whipping cream with a mixer on medium speed until soft peak forms. To serve, put the eggnog into a punch bowl and fold in whipping cream. Serve immediately. Sprinkle each cupful with additional ground nutmeg.