Holiday All Year Long
I love the holidays - the lights, the spirit, the weather. More than anything, I love the food (of course!) Ingredients such as ginger, cinnamon, chocolate, and cranberries are usually associated with delicious holiday food; and they aren't just tasty, they are REALLY good for you! Here are 5 popular holiday ingredients, and why you should have them on your shopping list all year long.
Nothing says holiday food like this bright, red berry. It's a perfect blend of tart and sweet; cranberry is a versatile addition to savory or sweet dishes.
Why it's a power ingredient: Cranberries are renowned for their health benefits. High in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, antioxidants, and fiber, cranberries are a nutritional powerhouse! Perhaps the most well-known health benefit of cranberries are their ability to prevent and treat urinary tract infections (UTI). Cranberry contains phytonutrients that inhibit bacteria from attaching to the walls of the bladder and urethra, thereby preventing bacterial accumulation that leads to infection. Prevention is key - consuming just 36mg of cranberry daily helps to keep your urinary system healthy.
How to use it all year: Fresh cranberries, rather than juice, are best in order to get the health benefits; juice is high in sugar and often contains only a small amount of real cranberry. Fresh cranberries show up in the store around October, so stock up because these ruby beauties now! Fresh cranberry sauce is one of my favorite dishes, dried cranberries are an excellent addition to salads and oatmeal, and cranberry salad is a winner all year. Fresh cranberries freeze well - spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, and then pop them in a freezer bag and enjoy cranberry salad in July.
Why it's a power ingredient: The health benefits of ginger have been known for centuries; it's one of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine and nutrition and its medicinal properties were used by ancient Egyptians. Ginger relieves nausea due to illness, motion sickness, and morning sickness. It promotes digestion and improves digestive fire by relieving gastrointestinal (GI) irritation, stimulate saliva and bile production, and helps to increase gastric motility. Ginger also reduces pain and inflammation, helps reduce cold and flu symptoms, and keeps your body warm (I'm talking to you, all of my perpetually cold friends).
How to use it all year: Ginger is readily available at any supermarket. Fresh ginger tea is a snap: grate 1-2 tsp into boiling water, add honey to taste, and drink after dinner. Grate fresh ginger over your oatmeal, add a thumb or two into your fresh green juice, add fresh or dried ginger to a stir-fry or homemade salad dressing, and use fresh or dried ginger to spice up any fish recipe like this honey ginger glazed salmon.
Why it's a power ingredient: Fresh peppermint leaves are something you'll want to have on hand all year. Fresh mint contains rosmarinic acid, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that relieves seasonal allergy symptoms. Mint is a natural decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus as well as soothing a sore throat. Mint also speeds and eases digestion thereby relieving pain from bloating caused by over-eating - hence the popularity of after-dinner mints!
How to use it all year: Adding fresh peppermint is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding excessive calories, sugar, or salt. It also lends itself well to tea (pour boiling water over fresh leaves), salads, soups, and fresh salsas. Peppermint is a tender herb, so it is best used raw or added at the end of cooking in order to maintain its delicate flavor and texture. Power Tip: Grow your own- mint is very easy to grow, is drought tolerant, and grows rapidly even in small indoor pots, so get to planting!
Why it's a power ingredient: This tasty spice may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, improve digestion and liver function, and reduce joint pain and inflammation. Several exciting peer-reviewed studies have been recently published linking cinnamon with a reduction of blood sugar for type-2 diabetics. Adding cinnamon moderately to your everyday foods is a wonderful way to incorporate these benefits into your diet.
How to use it all year: Be sure to get Cassia cinnamon; this darker cinnamon contains more potent ingredients than the more common Saigon or Ceylon cinnamon. Sprinkle fresh cinnamon over oatmeal, toast, butternut squash, or chili; add some cinnamon sticks to sangria or make your own fresh chai tea.
4. Dark Chocolate
Why it's a power ingredient: Who doesn't want to hear that chocolate is a health food? The benefits are real - dark chocolate is high in fiber, fatty acids, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Selenium and Magnesium (bonus tip: your chocolate and sugar cravings could be pointing to a Magnesium deficiency!) Dark chocolate is also a wonderful source of anti-oxidants - compounds that protect and repair cells from metabolic damage.
How to use it all year: Notice how I'm talking about dark chocolate because the health benefits are derived from the cocoa - sugary milk chocolate contains hardly any cocoa, plus it's full of inflammatory sugar (white chocolate technically isn't chocolate as it contains zero cocoa). Find a bar that contains least 70% cocoa (85% if you're a healthy-eating veteran) and enjoy a couple of squares daily.
The key to all of these ingredients is MODERATION - less is always more! As always, consult your holistic provider about how these ingredients can benefit you specifically; if you have advanced illness or other concerns, talk to your doctor before making dietary modifications.