Healthy Holidays!

Fall is here, bringing with it that special time of year from October through December, that we associate with the holidays, Pumpkin Season! Here’s the best news! The great orange pumpkin is not just for family gatherings anymore. We can enjoy it on a daily basis with friends and family or completely alone. Everything from pumpkin lattes, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin pies, and pumpkin quiche are available with just a swipe of your credit card. While browsing through Pinterest the other day, I even found a recipe for pumpkin lasagna. Nourishment does not get any better than the lovely orange gourd.

As a pumpkin lover myself, I never complain about the abundance of pumpkin treats, but it’s also a time to enjoy many other taste sensations that are quintessential culinary celebrations during this magical time of year. Cornbread stuffing with the wonderful aromas of rosemary, thyme, and sage, green beans almondine, citrusy cranberry relish, sweet potatoes rich with the warm woodsy fragrant aroma of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg are not only traditional but essential. Who doesn’t love the scents of Christmas? While we are all looking forward to the scrumptious tastes of this savory season, we should also be aware of the fantastic nutritional benefits in so many of the foods we indulge in at this time of year.

Let’s start with the green beans. They are full of Vitamin A and folic acid which decreases inflammation and supports our nervous and immune system. Cornmeal, used for the cornbread in our classic Southern stuffing is also a great source of folate which enhances red blood cell growth and function. Sweet potatoes have lots of Vitamin A for healthy teeth, eyes and skin, as well as Vitamin C for a healthy immune system. They are loaded with fiber and antioxidants, both of which boost gut health by promoting the growth of good gut bacteria and maintaining a leak-proof intestinal lining. Research studies in animals have indicated that the nutrients in sweet potatoes have cancer fighting properties and they enhance brain function. Pumpkin is loaded with the same wonderful nutrients as sweet potato, yet pumpkin is only 49 calories per cup versus 188 calories per cup of sweet potato. It contains lots of potassium for heart health as well. Here’s a fun fact – pumpkin seeds have plenty of the amino acid tryptophan, the same ingredient in turkey that makes you want to take a nap. Try a handful before bedtime and prevent that 3 am insomniac attack. 

What about the herbs and spices that we use in abundance to create the delicious culinary delights for friends and family throughout the holiday season? These flavorful ingredients derived from dried plants, contain antioxidants which means they prevent cell damage and decrease inflammation. That’s reason enough to use lots of fresh herbs in all your recipes, but each of these spices also have unique medicinal properties that have been recognized for centuries. All of these spices and herbs are used in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient Indian holistic treatment for maintaining wellness. Rosemary can improve digestion and enhance focus and performance. Sage improves oral health and may prevent dental plaque. Cloves are good for oral health, toothache pain and respiratory ailments. Additionally, cloves contain manganese which is important for good brain function and strong bones. Sage and cinnamon decrease blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance.  Cinnamon is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially decrease risk for many common diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Nutmeg has also been shown to stabilize blood sugar and increase heart health.

Who knew the Holidays could be so healthy, right? So, whether you are gathering for Thanksgiving, planning a happy Hanukkah, hosting a convivial Kwanzaa, or celebrating a candlelight Christmas, indulge, imbibe, and enjoy!

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