Go ahead--enjoy some holiday chocolate!

By Beth Cecil
Owensboro Health Healthpark dietitian

Let the party begin!! The holiday festivities have begun and for many of us, no matter how hard we try, sometimes it is still impossible to avoid the tasty seasonal delights. 

We try to keep our waistlines in mind and fill our plates with veggies, fruits, low fat dips, baked chips and fresh seafood, but sometimes we want more. Is there room at all for some of the foods we really love… nuts, chocolate, pumpkin treats? 

The answer is yes and believe it or not, some foods of the season may actually benefit your health. So go ahead, indulge moderately in some of these holiday favorites without guilt. Here’s a guide to some of these treats.

Chocolate:  Chocolate contains antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids that may help reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by helping prevent cholesterol from sticking to artery walls. Dark chocolate, which contains more cocoa than other forms of chocolate, is your best choice.

One recent study showed that the consumption of dark chocolate helped lower blood pressure, which can also help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Try to limit your consumption of chocolate to one to two ounces daily. Get even more bang for your calories by eating fruits such as strawberries, bananas, cherries or other fruit dipped in melted dark chocolate.

Olives:  Olives are a favorite of my husbands and mine. They too can be a healthy food choice. While we may fear their fat content, the truth is, most of the fat is the healthy monounsaturated fat. Plus, you can enjoy a serving of olives, five to six jumbo olives or 10 small olives, often for fewer than 50 calories.

Although we hear more about healthy olive oil, remember that it comes from olives. In fact, a recent study of extra-virgin olive oil, the oil that comes from the first pressing of the olives, found levels of polyphenols that resulted in higher HDL/good cholesterol levels and decreases in the arterial inflammation caused by LDL cholesterol.

Chocolate and olive oil both contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat shown to benefit heart health.

Pumpkin:  Low in calories, yet high in fiber and rich in potassium, magnesium, Vitamins C and E, pumpkin is a great addition to any holiday table. It is also packed with antioxidants called carotenoids, which may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Additionally, the beta-carotene found in pumpkins can also be converted by our bodies to Vitamin A and help promote good circulation, proper growth, and eye and lung health.

Try a low fat pumpkin recipe this year or substitute pumpkin for some of the fat when baking. And don’t forget that the seeds are a good source of protein and unsaturated fat.

Nuts:  The fat content of nuts may cause some people to keep them at bay. But the fats they contain are the cardio-protective mono- and polyunsaturated type making them a great food choice for heart-health benefits.

Nuts are popular this time of year alone or as an ingredient in many baked foods. They are chalk full of other nutrients too including protein, fiber and Vitamin E. 

There will be more on nuts next week. For now, remember as with all treats to eat them in moderation. A serving of nuts is about one ounce.

And finally, don’t forget that the nutrient packed seasonal fruits such as clementines, pomegranates and cranberries are always yummy additions to any holiday party.