Get to know these nutrient-packed foods and use them to transform your favorite holiday events from naughty to nourishing.
One of the most utilized spices in the world, with a history dating back thousands of years, cinnamon has an unmistakably warm, spicy fragrance that complements the sweetness of apples, pears and winter squash. “Ground cinnamon spice comes from the bark of the cinnamomum tree and contains multiple antioxidant compounds that reduce free radical damage,” says Casey Larsen, MS, LDN. Studies have shown cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar.
Recipe: Baked Pears with Cinnamon Honey
Since they’re in season, lemon and orange are perfect for late fall, lending a warm aroma and flavor to desserts. Even a pinch of citrus zest can add a pleasant brightness to baked goods. Just make sure you’re using organic fruit that has been washed really well. “Citrus fruits such as oranges, clementines, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons and limes are all a great source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant important for tissue repair and immune health,” says Larsen, adding that “vitamin C is also a precursor for collagen production and healthy glowing skin!”
Recipe: Orange Buttermilk Pancakes
3. CHIA SEEDS
Small and mighty, chia seeds contain antioxidants, insoluble fiber and protein with very little caloric impact. Neutral in flavor, they can be easily added to dishes and drinks, boosting the nutritional content. According to Larsen, “Chia seeds are a good source omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and important for cardiovascular health by helping control serum triglyceride levels.”
Recipe: Tart Cherry Chia Pudding
4. DARK CHOCOLATE
From chocolate chip cookies to ganache, dark chocolate makes everything it’s in seem like a treat. It’s also rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate on a regular basis can help improve skin, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants which are important for controlling free-radical damage,” says Larsen, but pay careful attention to the label before consuming. “It is important to be mindful of added sugars and ingredients when choosing a dark chocolate!” For optimum benefit, aim for dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao.
Recipe: Dark Chocolate Almond Bark
This tangy fruit is an excellent ingredient for desserts during the holiday season and beyond. “Not only do cranberries provide powerful antioxidants, but they’re also a great source of insoluble fiber, which is important for proper digestion and gastrointestinal health,” says Larsen. Dried cranberries are often sweetened with fruit juice, so opt for those sweetened just enough to tone down their tartness.
Recipe: Whole-wheat Cranberry Muffins
6. ROLLED OATS
Because of their high fiber content, oats are satiating and can also help lower blood sugar. “Rolled oats are a great way to add whole grains to your daily dietary intake,” says Larsen, adding that “Whole grains provide three nutrient-dense layers: (1) the bran layer is the fiber rich outer layer that protects the seed and contains B vitamins and trace minerals; (2) the endosperm layer is the middle layer that provides carbohydrates along with protein; and (3) the germ layer is the small nutrient-rich core that contains antioxidants, including vitamin E, B vitamins and healthy fats.”
7. CAYENNE PEPPER
A powerful and pungent spice (that also goes amazingly well with chocolate), cayenne pepper is a pantry staple that offers a nutritional punch. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, has been said to help temporarily boost metabolism and reduce hunger. “Cayenne pepper’s bright red color is due to beta-carotene, a precursor for vitamin A, which supports eye function,” says Larsen.
Recipe: Thai Spiced Almonds