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The 12 Foods of Christmas

20 J00000011UTC 2011

It’s that most wonderful time of the year when the days are short, the temps are cold and the food is delicious. Yet I hear a lot of angst in December– some people over-indulging, eating every fruitcake in sight; some people over-depriving, then binging on lil’ smokies at the company party; some people ridden with food guilt, feeling they have to be nice to get on Santa’s good side. Good old Kris Kringle has a healthy view of food during the month of December— you can too.

This holiday 1. eat real, good food rather than altered, boxed, man-made stuff; 2. eat regularly so that you don’t starve yourself and binge, putting on weight in weird places (this means not skipping meals before the party); and      3. make good stuff and enjoy it, sharing it with others so that neither you nor anyone else feels or is deprived. This plan is real and reasonable. It keeps your blood sugar balanced, your belly full and your mind and mood at ease so you can taste the party desserts and festive meals. When you remain a consciously aware grown-up eater, choosing foods for your health and not flavor alone, your body and mind are happier.

Here are 12 holiday foods, each of which has it’s place in a nutrient dense diet. Use them in everyday cooking, for party planning or in snacks to take along in your purse or bag on long work or shopping days.

1. Chocolate– Rich in antioxidants, flavor and satisfaction, use chocolate that is 60-80% cocoa and low in other ingredients, especially hydrogenated oils and sugar/corn syrup. Make your own hot chocolate mix to avoid the science found in store bought brands. (see note at bottom)

2. Cinnamon– A warming spice made from a tree bark, add cinnamon to curry dishes, apple cider, winter squash, your morning cup of coffee and toasted nuts. It is high in antioxidants, blood sugar balancing, especially good for those in danger of diabetes and cholesterol regulating. Choose organic when you can and keep in a tight container for optimal freshness. (see note at bottom)

3. Citrus– All parts of all kinds of citrus (grapefruit, orange, tangerine, lemon, lime) are beneficial from the white spongy pith to the rind. Some have anti-cancer properties, some are liver detoxifying and some are immune boosting. Start your digestion off right in the morning with a glass or warm lemon water, add citrus every day while it is fresh and available. Aim for organic, especially if you plan on using the zest. You don’t want paint and bug spray in your recipe, do you?

4. Cloves– Actually a tiny, unopened, dried flower bud this spice and its oil are used around the world. Possessing the active component ‘eugenol’, cloves are useful for digestive ailments, toxicity and inflammation, especially in the joints. Simmer these in Indian dishes or apple cider; add ground cloves to gingersnap cookies or pumpkin bread; nibble on one clove as a breath freshener instead of chewing gum.

5. Coconut Oil– My favorite health-wise food, coconut oil is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It’s known to raise “good cholesterol”, balance blood sugar levels, burn easily as energy and decrease viral loads. It’s filling, satisfying, stable and tastes delicious. Virgin coconut oil comes straight from the coconut and can be used as a replacement for canola, sunflower, safflower oils, shortening or margarine. Use for both baking and cooking this holiday.

6. Cranberries– Tonifying to the bladder and urinary tract, cranberries help balance out the pH, or acid/alkaline balance in the body. They are also high in antioxidants (partly because you eat the seeds) and can be used in salads, smoothies, cookies, cakes, stuffing, purees, jams, muffins, pancakes, rice pilafs and, well, cranberry sauce.

7. Peppermint– A cross between water mint and spearmint, peppermint is soothing and relaxing, useful for digestion, gas and even IBS. It contains the antioxidant properties of its cousin, rosemary, and is delicious in anything from a simple digestive tea to an elaborate Christmas wedding cake. I’ve had both.

8. Pomegranates– An ancient, traditional food, these are rich in antioxidants, fiber and vitamin K. They are usually found in juice form, but are much more fun to eat whole. The seeds pop in your mouth and have a sweet-tart flavor. Mix them into salads and smoothies or use them as toppings on cupcakes rather than using food-dye pellets.

9. Pork– To find the tastiest pig pass the grocery store by and find your closest farm. You can probably buy direct or place a special order months ahead of time and, if you by odd cuts, you may get a better price. If you do head to the store, avoid conventional meat which is flooded with hormones and antibiotics and go ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ and nitrate/nitrite free for the best flavor and nutrition. Try a pork loin with balsamic pear or cranberry topping or the bacon and Brussels sprouts on my previous post. Pork is super high in protein so it is building, blood sugar balancing, nourishing and filling.

10. Poultry– A lean, easily prepared and easily accessible source of high quality protein, birds are good for the body and the brain (muscles, tissues, wound healing, neurotransmitters, hormones). Use the whole chicken or turkey by roasting or boiling it, using bones/water to make stock for soup, finding the one family member who will eat the super nutrient-dense organ meats and feed the scraps and skin (not cooked bones) to the dogs. You’ll be surprised how little is left and how long it lasts.

11. Sweet Potatoes– Unrelated to the potato and not a yam, this root comes in 400 varieties. Rich in carotenes (the precursors to vitamin A), vitamin B6 and fiber, sweet potatoes, even though sweet, are recommended for diabetics because of their insulin balancing properties and are, high in antioxidants glutathione and vitamin C. Try them in an Indian soup, cubed in a stir fry, as a pie, mashed with coconut oil and cinnamon in place of white potatoes or in a gluten free muffin recipe.

12. Tree Nuts– As opposed to peanuts, which are actually a legume or bean, find these this time of year still in the shell and have fun cracking them or else buy them raw and unsalted (out of a fridge is best). Try Brazil nuts, filberts (hazelnuts), macadamias, cashews, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, pecans (my favorite) and pistachios. These are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, some omega 3 fats, fiber, and healthy doses of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, selenium, chromium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc and molybdenum.


On Herbs and Spices, including cocoa, cinnamon, cloves and peppermint: Go to the Savory Spice Shop’s online store, or the one on Broadway in Boulder, for the absolute best, freshest herbs, spices, extracts and blends. Their cinnamons are amazing.

On Nuts: If you are prone to herpes breakouts around your mouth, you’ll want to cut back on the nuts and chocolate, as they contain high amounts of arginine, an amino acid that promotes flare-ups. Arginine is balanced out by the amino acid lysine, so if you do have an outbreak, it is easy to supplement with lysine to get back in balance.

On Peppermint Tea: To find a box of my favorite mint digestive tea, go to the Traditional Medicinals website and look for the Eater’s Digest tea. I have not taken a Tums in over three years. They also have ones for heartburn and constipation.

Eat real, eat regularly and share the wonderful things you make. Remember to take time to eat each meal, pack snacks for long days and to breathe during and between meals. When you de-stress, slow down and get enough sleep, you can metabolize better, make better food choices and stay healthier during the holidays.


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