Here's some good news about the season of indulgence. If you make smart choices about how you splurge, you can reap the health benefits of certain power-packed foods that are popular on holiday tables.
Consumed in moderation, these 5 foods are research-proven to deliver benefits that range from helping prevent some types of heart disease to reducing blood pressure. Here's our guide to these treats, including the latest research about their benefits and how best to enjoy them.
Health benefits: Mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids―the types of fats that have been linked to heart-health benefits. All nuts contain quality protein and fiber, and are excellent sources of vitamin E, folate, and magnesium. English walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease by decreasing arterial inflammation. Latest research: People who eat nuts often have lower risk of heart disease. One study shows that eating a small handful (about 11/2 ounces) of macadamia nuts daily helped reduce total cholesterol by 9.4 percent and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 8.9 percent. Macadamia nuts are higher in monounsaturated fats than other tree nuts. These fats play an important role in regulating cholesterol and keeping levels optimal. How much to enjoy: 1 to 11/2 ounces, or roughly 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Eat enough to cover the palm of your hand.
Health benefits: Vitamin C, which helps neutralize free radical damage to cells and thus may help prevent certain kinds of cancer. Pomegranates are also rich in polyphenols and high in potassium. Latest research: Pomegranate juice―specifically juice made from a variety called Wonderful, which is the most widely available type of the fruit available in the United States―tested 20 percent higher in antioxidants than other antioxidant-rich beverages, including acai juice, black cherry juice, blueberry juice, grape juice, orange juice, red wines, and black, green, or white teas. How much to enjoy: 4 to 8 ounces of juice or half a single fruit.
Health benefits: Monounsaturated fats. They’re also low in calories; one serving of five kalamata olives is about 25 calories. However, olives are high in sodium, so cut back on salty foods elsewhere. Latest research: Most studies researched the use of olive oil, which, like olives, is a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Other compounds may have a cardio-protective effect. Extra- virgin olive oil was found to have higher levels of polyphenols than refined oils, and resulted in greater increases of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In addition, the polyphenols may help prevent the arterial inflammation caused by LDL. Serving size: Approximately 5 to 6 large or jumbo olives, 10 small olives, 5 kalamata olives, or a heaping tablespoon of sliced or chopped olives.
Health benefits: Polyphenols and flavonoids, two types of antioxidants shown to help prevent damage caused by cholesterol in arteries. Latest research: Clinical studies show that dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure. Over time, eating one piece of chocolate―the equivalent of 30 calories―every day lowered systolic blood pressure by 2.9 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg). This in turn may lower your risk of stroke or coronary artery disease. How much to enjoy: 1 to 2 ounces. One 41-gram bar of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate or 9 Hershey’s Special Dark Kisses is just slightly less than 11/2 ounces. Choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa.
Health benefits: In moderation, alcoholic beverages can help reduce cholesterol, maintain healthful blood pressure levels, and control arterial inflammation. Red wine contains varying amounts of resveratrol, an antioxidant from grape skins that can help reduce blood clotting by decreasing platelet aggregation. Latest research: There’s no doubt that drinking to excess harms the liver. But a recent study reports that modest consumption may help prevent the most common liver disease in the United States, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). In the study, those who consumed one glass of wine a day reduced the risk of NAFLD by 50 percent. How much to enjoy: One serving per day for women, up to two for men. One serving of alcohol is one 4- to 6-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce beer, or 1 ounce of alcohol (liquor such as gin, vodka, whiskey, or the like).