I'm no holiday food Scrooge, and you shouldn't be one either. Some of the top seasonal splurges have pretty impressive health benefits. Science has rescued so-called "naughty" foods from the taboo list, and studies show that cocktail party favorites like olives and a cheese plate actually add to better health and longer life. Of course, you need to watch portion size or you could overdose on calories and saturated fat, but indulging lightly not only makes the holidays more fun-no one ever felt merry over a few celery sticks-it can actually help you live longer.
1) Olives are antioxidant powerhouses.
Olives grow in searingly hot sunlight, so they produce an overload of anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenols that fight the oxidation caused by ultraviolet light. Inside you, these same phytochemicals fight the oxidation that may cause aging. And, like the oil they produce, olives are rich in monounsaturated fat, which will help lower your cholesterol and reduce blood clotting and may offer some protection against breast cancer.
Don't overdo it: Olives are high in sodium so get your fix by spreading the flavor around. Slice a few strong-flavored olives such as kalamatas into pasta sauce. Dab a tablespoon of tapenade (olive spread) on a piece of crusty bread as an appetizer. Add sliced stuffed green olives to potato salad, egg salad, or mixed green salad. Explore olives, from the tiny, pistachio-size French green to huge, inky black Cerignolas.
2) Dark chocolate is seriously heart-healthy.
This time, love isn't blind. Chocolate, especially the dark or bittersweet kind, is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that protect your heart by preventing platelets from sticking together and forming clots that could cause a heart attack. But even milk chocolate is good: A typical 1.5-ounce bar packs as much antioxidant power as a 5-ounce glass of red wine.
Don't overdo it: Try individually wrapped mini or fun-size chocolate bars such as Nestlé plain chocolate or crunch. At 50 calories each, you can have two. Or dilute your chocolate with other flavors: mini peppermint patties are only 35 calories each, so have three! Dip your strawberries in chocolate syrup, or drizzle chocolate syrup on almost anything.
3) Cheese will lower your breast cancer risk-and your dental bill.
The news about cheese-except the fat-free kind-is that it contains a special kind of fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, that scientists are investigating as a new weapon against breast cancer. And all that concentrated calcium-300 mg, as much as in a glass of milk, in just 1.5 ounces of Cheddar-is a boon for bone health. And finally, there's your smile: Eating hard cheese at the end of a meal can protect your pearly whites from tooth decay.
Don't overdo it: Choose strong-flavored cheese, such as extra sharp cheddar or gorgonzola, and you'll be satisfied with less. To prevent overindulgence, take what you need, then wrap and refrigerate the rest immediately. Or choose proportioned string cheese, cheese slices, or mini wedges. At parties, take a couple of cubes of exotic types, then move on or pair cheese with another food to make it last longer.
4) Nuts can literally help you live longer.
Several large studies have linked nuts to lower heart disease risk and longer life. In the landmark Nurses' Health Study, for instance, women who ate the most nuts (about 5 ounces per week) had half the risk of heart attack as those who rarely ate them. Although the power source in nuts is unclear, researchers suggest that their unsaturated fats, magnesium, copper, folic acid, protein, potassium, fiber, and vitamin E may all play a part.
Don't overdo it: Punch up the texture and flavor of raw nuts by roasting them lightly in your toaster oven. "I add nuts to green salads and cooked vegetables, and I toss about 1/2 cup into homemade bread," says Susan Adams, RD, a nutritionist at Washington State University. They're also great in hot or cold cereal, yogurt, pudding, and pasta dishes. For a snack, try a small handful of almonds and dried dates. For the ultimate dessert, have two or three chocolate-covered macadamias. Ah... heaven.
5) Beef can power up your immune system.
Beef is one of the richest and best-absorbed sources of zinc, a key mineral in your immune system's fight against many enemies, from viruses to cancer. Getting enough zinc is also critical for appetite, taste, and night vision, yet only half of adults over age 50 come close to the daily value of 15 mg.
Don't overdo it: For a special treat, have a 4- or 5-ounce filet mignon-a holiday season stalwart. When you eat out, pass on the huge steaks and burgers and choose kebabs, fajitas, or stir-fries, where a small amount of beef is served with lots of veggies instead.
More Ways to Survive the Holidays from Prevention:
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