Spice up the new year with a healthy kitchen

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

The end of December is always a time for reflection.  As the dawn of a new year approaches, we may find ourselves engaging in a mental “year in review”, trying our best to recapture the highlights of the past 365 days.  For many of us, however, the beauty and magic of the recent holidays still linger in our thoughts — along with recalling how we savored the delicious treats created from our favorite recipes.

Why is it that there are some foods that we only allow ourselves to enjoy during the month between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? While the answer may be steeped in a long-standing tradition, the reality is that many of us simply do not ponder utilizing some of these ingredients all year long.  While many holiday treats do tend to be laden with calories, and as such are best enjoyed only once a year for the sake of our waistlines, many of the ingredients confer much in the way of health benefits. As such, a savvy chef might choose to start finding ways to include these staples in recipes prepared all throughout the calendar.

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No aroma signals the start of the holiday season like that of cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg.  Coming to us from the Far East, these spices are more versatile than simply garnishing a cup of cocoa or eggnog!  As more research continues to be conducted on the health benefits of spices, it has been concluded that adding cinnamon or nutmeg to recipes can help lower cholesterol and maintain insulin levels in the blood.  Cinnamon’s unique healing abilities come from three basic components in the essential oils found in its bark. The properties of these oils also qualify it as an “anti-microbial” food, having been studied for its ability to thwart the growth of both bacteria and fungi. Nutmeg contains vitamin A, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Like cinnamon, it too possesses strong antibacterial properties, and has been found to be particularly effective in killing a number of cavity-causing bacteria.

When it comes to pairing side dishes for traditional holiday fare, nothing rises to the challenge quite like cranberries. Usually quite plentiful at other times of the year, these crimson gems are also packed with health benefits.  Cranberry extract is most notably utilized to help fight urinary tract infections.  However, this tiny fruit contains a compound known as proanthocyanidine, which research has shown can help prevent the buildup of plaque on teeth.  High in both fiber and Vitamin C, and only 45 calories per cup, these disease-fighting delicacies outshine almost every fruit and vegetable in terms of antioxidants.

In the coming year, strive to include these festive favorites in daily recipes.  Not only will it help to preserve the holiday memories, but it might lead to some new and creative favorites!