A Candy Cane a Day…

Merry Christmas! Candy canes are good for you!

Well, sort of…

I recently read that smelling peppermint—the ultimate holiday treat—can boost energy levels. Though the nutritional value of candy canes is derailed by the amount of sugar they contain, I think it’s safe to reason that taking a whiff before you eat could give you the motivation to work it all off. They’d provide a much-needed perk to hit the gym when there are so many reasons to instead cuddle up by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. (For the healthier alternative, try peppermint oil.)

Bonus: In addition to increasing your drive to exercise, peppermint may also increase your ability to focus.

Reading about peppermint made me think about other foods that have “secret” nutritional values.

The term “superfood” seems to be thrown around a lot. But what exactly makes up a “superfood?”

My recent research into the topic reveals that “superfoods” encompass a wide variety of foods. They do not, in fact, have an exact definition. But these are some key qualities:

“Superfood” is an unscientific term given to a food that is believed to boost health. In essence, superfoods up the ante when compared to the wide array of fruits, veggies and proteins out there. They’re all natural, not processed, and studies have shown that at the very least, consuming them boosts your overall mood.

Superfoods tend to target specific issues. For example, blueberries are “antioxidant superfoods.” They’re packed with antioxidants, photoflavinoids, potassium and vitamin C. Snacking on blueberries can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, and they’re anti-inflammatory. (Inflammation can lead to a number of chronic diseases.) It’s important to note that in fruit, color is key: With blueberries, the richer the blue, the more nutrition they pack.

Avocados are another type of superfood. They’re high in fat, but the good kind—monosaturated fat. Monosaturated fat will help to protect you from heart disease. And avocadoes have the highest amount of fiber of any fruit, making them a good choice for people hoping to lower their cholesterol.

Maybe Christmas guac should become a seasonal staple? The green color could go nicely with some red wine…

(On second thought, scratch that pairing. Bleh.)

But who hasn’t heard the age-old “dark chocolate and red wine is good for you” expression? It’s a valid one to dissect as the holiday season gets into full swing.

First, the chocolate. Studies suggest that dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants and can lower blood pressure. As with fruit, color is key. Darker chocolate has lower sugar and fat content. (And you’re usually obliged to eat less, because it’s so rich.) Sixty percent or higher cocoa is recommended.

My favorite chocolate is Ritter Sport, a European brand that is slowly inching its way into East End shops, including Target in Riverhead.

Red wine, too, is thought to be packed with antioxidants. When consumed in moderation, it can lower your risk of heart disease. It contains the compound resveratrol, which helps to reduce “bad” cholesterol and lower the likelihood of blood clots.

Brazil nuts have also recently come to my attention as a healthy snacking option. They’re rich in selenium and B vitamins, which work to convert fat, proteins and carbs into energy. Research shows that they aid in balancing blood sugar levels, helping to regulate energy fluctuations. You’re not going to peak and crash during the day. Unless, of course, you go on a candy cane eating binge.

I think I’m going to invest in a peppermint plant for the office.

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