Hidden Health Benefits Of 5 Popular Winter Delicacies

Discussion in 'Dietetics' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Jan 6, 2020.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    It’s the holiday season once again: a time when we’re all probably wondering whether we should’ve really eaten that second cookie or handful of caramel popcorn. And while some winter treats definitely warrant a second thought when it comes to your waistline (fruitcake—you delicious, sugary devil—we’re looking at you), there are those that are surprisingly nutritious despite their high caloric content.

    Here are five winter food favorites that, when consumed in moderation, actually offer several health benefits.

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    Eggnog

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    Starting off this list is a decadent treat that is perhaps the most associated indulgence of the winter season: eggnog. It’s a controversial pick to be sure, given that—next to pecan pie and potato latkes—eggnog is oft cited as one of the most fattening holiday foods, but eggnog’s strong nutritional profile warrants a special spotlight.

    Eggnog is a sweet, spiced beverage typically made with heavy cream, whole milk, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, clove, and alcohol (usually rum, but other variants include brandy or whiskey). It is, unfortunately, high in fat and calories, with 1 cup containing around 350 calories and 19 g of fat. To put this into perspective, it would take anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise to burn off the calories in a single serving of eggnog.

    Here’s the silver lining: Because it’s made with egg, milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg, eggnog is loaded with vitamins and nutrients that can do your body a world of good (if not consumed in excess, of course).

    Eggs. Although eggs have long been considered unhealthy due to the high cholesterol and fat content found in their yolks, eating an egg a day is correlated with improved heart health, according to recent research. In one study, including eggs in a carbohydrate-restricted diet increased HDL cholesterol levels and decreased risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome in overweight/obese study participants. Importantly, egg consumption did not raise LDL cholesterol levels.

    In another study, daily egg consumption was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared with rarely or never eating eggs. Daily egg consumers had a 26% lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a 28% lower risk for death from hemorrhagic stroke, and an 18% lower risk for CVD death. Furthermore, those who ate eggs daily had a 12% lower risk for ischemic heart disease and a 14% lower risk for major cardiac events compared with those who did not eat eggs.

    Moreover, eggs are considered the highest form of complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. One large egg, for example, contains 6 g of protein and 14 important nutrients, including folate, iron, zinc, choline, and vitamins A, B12, D, and E—all for just 70 calories.

    Milk. Researchers have shown an association between milk’s tryptophan and melatonin content and better sleep. In addition, milk is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and D, as well as B vitamins that have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood. In one study, seriously stressed workers who were given a high dose of B vitamins reported significantly less strain and better mood after 12 weeks.

    Cinnamon. This spice has been shown to offer a plethora of health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antifungal properties, which have all been well documented in the literature. In folk medicine, it is used to treat various health issues, including the common cold and gastrointestinal disorders. And, according to some studies, cinnamon may even help protect against infection from Helicobacter pylori.

    Furthermore, cinnamon has been shown to promote skin firmness and elasticity via collagen production, and reduce skin damage caused by advanced glycation end-products. The spice may also have positive effects on serum glucose levels, according to the results of one recent systematic review and meta-analysis. Researchers have also shown that cinnamon may offer neurocognitive protection against some degenerative diseases like Alzheimer disease via inhibition of the aggregation of tau protein.

    Nutmeg. You may not realize it, but nutmeg is actually a potent aphrodisiac. In Perso-Arabic traditional medicine, nutmeg has been used for centuries to treat sexual disorders. In murine models, nutmeg was shown to increase mating activity.

    If you’re DIY-ing eggnog at home, swapping out whole milk for low-fat or skim milk and using a low-calorie sweetener like stevia can bring the carb and calorie count way down. For a healthy eggnog that doesn’t taste utterly disgusting, try this recipe from Good Housekeeping.

    Gingerbread cookies

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    Like eggnog, these morsels of delicious awesomeness are packed with sugar. Lots of sugar. Despite this drawback, gingerbread cookies also contain cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Having already extolled the many health benefits of cinnamon and nutmeg, let’s focus on ginger and cloves.

    While ginger adds a lovely (if not strong) flavor to many foods and desserts, it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, anti-nausea agent, and carminative, which helps to reduce intestinal gas. (After all, there’s a good reason why your mom gave you ginger ale or ginger tea as a kid when you had an upset stomach.) Furthermore, in human trials, ginger supplements decreased appetite, BMI values, and insulin resistance. With respect to cloves, they’re also rich in antioxidants and, much like cinnamon, have been shown to have aphrodisiac properties in some studies.

    Chocolate

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    You’ve just received a gift basket filled to the brim with assorted goodies, and the Godiva is staring you in the face, taunting you. You’re tempted. Should you indulge or summon your willpower and resist? The short and sweet of it: Having a few squares won’t ruin your diet, but opting for dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate will proffer some additional health benefits. Here’s why:

    Despite being high in fat and calories, dark chocolate is on the lower end of the glycemic index, and is rich in antioxidants due to its high flavanol profile. (Flavanols are a type of polyphenol, a class of phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.) Dark chocolate is between two and three times denser in flavanols than milk chocolate. Researchers have shown that the flavanols in dark chocolate can increase blood flow via vasodilation, lower blood pressure levels, and reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. Flavanols can also boost insulin sensitivity, which may help with diabetes, according to some studies.

    According to a recent meta-analysis of 23 studies, eating chocolate can reduce the relative risk of heart failure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary heart disease, and 45 g of dark chocolate per week may be the most effective amount for reducing the risk of CVD.

    Moreover, in a small randomized trial, researchers found that the more cocoa flavonoids healthy participants consumed, the more vasodilatory and blood pressure-lowering benefits they reaped.

    Dark chocolate can also offer some “eye”-worthy benefits. In another small trial, participants who ate dark chocolate demonstrated significantly improved contrast sensitivity and visual acuity for 2 hours after consumption.

    But that’s not all folks.

    “Studies show that dark chocolate with high concentrations of cacao can have a positive effect on stress levels, inflammation, mood, and memory,” Perri Halperin, MS, RD, clinical dietitian, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, NY, told MDLinx. “It stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure.” Even eating a little dark chocolate, she added, can reduce levels of cortisol and other stress hormones.

    However, a word of caution: Eating too much chocolate, even dark chocolate, will likely negate the health benefits provided by flavanols, and may lead to the negative effects correlated with excess sugar and fat intake.

    Peppermint

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    If autumn is all about the pumpkin, then winter is all about the peppermint—an iconic symbol of the winter festivities. But peppermint is more than just a pretty candy cane decoration on your Christmas Tree or zingy breath-freshening treat in your desk drawer.

    The history of peppermint goes back to ancient times when the Greeks used the herb as a folk remedy to treat gastrointestinal disturbances. Today, peppermint oil and leaves are often used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The menthol found in peppermint is the likely source of symptom relief.

    "The main component of peppermint is menthol, which has a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue and topically performs as an anesthetic that helps relieve sore muscles and body aches,” explained Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, NY, in an interview with MDLinx.

    Peppermint has also been shown to offer antimicrobial protection against oral pathogens, while researchers have shown that chewing gum containing peppermint can reduce stress, and improve attention and mood.

    Chicken soup

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    Rounding out this list is chicken soup. Yes, chicken soup isn’t technically a treat or delicacy like the other items on our list, but it is a comfort food that is much beloved during the cold winter months.

    Chicken soup and other broth-based soups are traditional fare for those who are sick. And it’s a tradition that dates as far back as the 12th century, when physicians were recommending chicken soup for their ill patients. But why chicken soup in particular? The answer lies in its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Researchers have shown that cysteine, an amino acid found in chicken, may help to thin mucus in the lungs. And the decongestant properties of chicken soup’s steamy broth also works to prevent dehydration and fight inflammation, especially in the throat.

    Furthermore, chicken soup has been shown to have profound inhibitory effects on neutrophil migration to sites of infection or inflammation in patients with symptomatic upper respiratory tract infection. Lastly, all of the mainstay ingredients in traditional chicken soup—vegetables, chicken, broth, and so forth—have been shown to individually proffer this inhibitory capability.

    So, go ahead and enjoy these cozy winter foods without guilt. But remember: Moderation is key. And Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at Faculty Of Medicine!

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