This is a wonderful time of year, celebrating the holidays. However, as we all know, the food and drinks are often not so healthy! You may have the mindset that in order to be nutritious and good for the immune system, such food and drinks can’t possibly be all that yummy. But wait – that’s just not true!

Let’s look at some possibilities for some delicious yet healthy drinks. While you can probably buy them somewhere, you can also consider making them yourself! For instance, ingredients like apples always pair well with cinnamon. Since apples have quite a bit of sugar occurring naturally in them, consider combining cold, pure apple juice with some sparkling spring water. Add a good natural source of cinnamon to it and you can even put a cinnamon stick into the drink because it looks so good! Apples have quercetin, which is an antioxidant that has brain protective properties. Do you want the drink warm? Slightly heat up your drink using regular spring water or add a little real cream or coconut water (or combination according to taste). Apples also have phytochemicals which may help protect against colon cancer, heart disease, plus diabetes. Plus, phytochemicals can protect against infections and other invaders like viruses so they’re good for your immune system. Yum. Also consider sugar-free pomegranate juice (please read the ingredients on the label or just make it yourself from the actual fruit), as well as drinks containing lemons and limes. Berries are lower in sugar and can really sweeten and brighten up a holiday drink. Just be careful with the alcohol – if you use it at all, use very much in moderation. That’s needs no explanation!

Let’s look at making some delicious hot chocolate for the season, but in a healthier way. You can use real cream, or half-and-half, or coconut milk, etc. as the base. Then you can melt some high cacao percentage dark chocolates from either a bar or as chocolate chips (you can buy them in most supermarkets – use at least 60% cacao or higher which is healthier). There is a little sugar in the chocolate to sweeten, but you can also use 100% cacao chocolate from a bar or powder, and use a healthier sweetener like erythritol, or stevia. These ingredients are available for purchase in almost every grocery store. Erythritol behaves just like an antioxidant so it may also be immune-protective. It does not spike the blood sugar or insulin. Stevia leaves are the sweetest part of the plant. Stevia may help lower insulin and blood sugar levels. Be careful about purchasing over-the-counter preparations as some of them are more processed than others and are combined with ingredients that may not be so healthy. Now dark chocolate has many health benefits! It is fiber-rich and provides several minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, etc. Dark chocolate, while it contains some caffeine, will not keep you up at night because there’s just not that much in there! Dark chocolate also is a terrific source of antioxidants, so it is another boost to the immune system.

Now let’s move onto the food. Basically, you can make any recipes healthy or at least healthier by using the right ingredients. Most of us have heard of mashed cauliflower. Well – it’s delicious when made well. If you consume dairy, add some real butter and cream when mashing. It looks like mashed potatoes and unless you’re really paying attention, you might even assume you are eating mashed potatoes! Cauliflower does not spike your blood sugar, but white potatoes might. Cauliflower contains many minerals and some vitamins, is low in calories (that is until you start adding the cream and butter….), and high in fiber. It is also a great source of antioxidants which is immune system protective and staves off inflammation. You can also prepare mashed sweet potatoes in a similar manner. While this has more starch, it is also a great source of fiber, vitamins (think B and C), and a variety of minerals. They contain beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A (another antioxidant) when you eat them and are thus also good for the immune system. Use your imagination for adding other ingredients, like coconut butter, a tiny touch of maple syrup, etc. In fact, if you use a family recipe, just swap out unhealthy ingredients (like table sugar) and use something healthier. (Do they have to be overly sweet?!)

Do you roast a traditional turkey for the holidays? If so, most likely the only possible unhealthy ingredient is the stuffing, which is usually made with white flour. There are gluten-free options out there, although they are not starch free, but it’s a “cheat” you might consider just this once. You can put the same seasonings and veggies in it. In fact, many people make breads these days out of almond and coconut flour, which have antioxidants, so you might consider making a loaf of bread with these (which are much lower in starch), slicing it, and toasting it. Then cube it to create your stuffing mix, add your favorite seasonings, and prepare as you would any other stuffing mix.

How about healthy dips? First of all, think healthier carbs. You can use split peas for example with onion, garlic, salt, and other ingredients and put it in the food processor. Add a little olive oil and/or lemon juice. Split peas may also help blood sugar levels and are known to be heart health protective. Or you could consider a dip made largely of any combination of veggies, which are of course healthy for the immune system and a lot of other things! Consider serving with rice crackers or raw veggie slices. Consider making an onion dip by sauteing onions, salt, and pepper till browned, and adding it to some Greek yogurt, or sour cream (or a combination). You can put chives on top!

Basically, you can dial back the junk foods, sodas, etc. and create some new and delicious holiday food traditions using real, unadulterated ingredients. These are always healthier, and flavors are also often brighter. Search online for inspirations and recipes – there are many online.  While we haven’t gone into healthier baked goods here, there are many recipes to be found online, according to the eating style you are following.

Remember – knowledge is power, so take charge of your health. And, as always, have a happy, holistically healthy and holiday season!
Dr. P