By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
We know this holiday season will be full of your favorite cookies, right? And we also know the headlines say that the cookies are all bad for us, but are they really as bad as they say? In short, no, nothing in moderation is inherently terrible, and actually there may be an upside to those cookies that you love. In fact, some of the ingredients in your favorite holiday cookies may actually be healthy for you (surely I’ve got your attention at this point!), that’s right I said healthy!
As it turns out, some of the delicious flavor that’s added to cookies, especially in cookies often consumed at this time of year, may contain cancer-fighting, health-promoting properties; for example like cinnamon and nutmeg, but the list doesn’t stop there. In fact there’s actually some health benefits in many more of the cookie ingredients than you had originally expected.
So here it is, the breakdown of what’s really (good) inside those cookies you love:
Cinnamon has long been touted as beneficial to promoting health in various ways. Firstly, cinnamon is known for helping to promote balanced blood sugar. Due to the compound cinnemaldehyde, it may also be beneficial in helping to prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Other research suggests that cinnamon may help to slow or prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Here are 7 more reasons to love cinnamon.
Nutmeg is another component of many holiday cookies, and it’s also rich in healthy nutrients. For example, nutmeg is a source of nutrients like manganese and copper, and both are involved in the production of the antioxidant Superoxide Dismutase. Manganese also plays a role in bone health, calcium absorption, helps to regulate blood sugar and more. Another nutrient found in nutmeg is magnesium, which is a key nutrient for heart-health, muscle relaxation and brain health. Finally, nutmeg also contains eugenol, a nutrient that may help to soothe joint pain. All in all, this is a pretty good one for you to be eating!
Molasses is a natural and traditional sweetener that of course like the rest of the sugars, gets a bad and undeserved rap. In fact, molasses (particularly black strap molasses) is rich in nutrients and may help to promote healthy digestion, promote balanced blood sugar, and also contains antioxidants that can help to fight damage that happens within the body. Finally, molasses is also a source of iron and other minerals like magnesium and calcium.
Oats are another wonderful part of many different cookies you may be eating during the holiday season. Oats are a source of bone-healthy calcium and phosphorus, and also contains soluble fiber that may help to promote healthy blood sugar and good digestion.
Maple syrup is an all-time favorite sweetener of mine, not only because it’s so tasty of course, but because it’s loaded with nutrients too. Maple syrup is a source of heart-healthy magnesium, and is also loaded with antioxidants (about 54 antioxidants!) that are part of the polyphenol family, and the general rule of thumb is that the darker the color of the syrup, the richer in nutrients.
Whole wheat flour, although isn’t gluten-free (which for some of us is actually ok!ay) is also a good source of nutrients, even though it often gets a bad rap. Whole wheat flour is a source of thyroid-healthy iodine as well a B vitamins, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Next time you’re making holiday cookies try to include whole wheat flour instead of bleached flour, it’s always a good idea.
Honey is another tasty and healthy sweetener that may appear in your holiday cookies, and it’s often frowned upon along with other sweeteners (albeit natural). Honey is a rich source of nutrients like antioxidants, anti-viral and anti-bacterial compounds and may also help to promote a healthy immune system. Typically, the darker the color of the honey (similar to maple syrup) the more nutrients it contains; my dark-colored favorites are Manuka honey and buckwheat honey.
Last but certainly not least (and perhaps my most favorite on this list) is dark chocolate chips. Chocolate gets a bad rap by many as well because of its sugar content, but I think what’s often forgotten is how rich in nutrients it is when you use a dark, high-quality source. Chocolate is a rich source of nutrients like flavonoids that have been touted for their brain and heart-healthy benefits, and as well magnesium and phosphorus that are bone healthy, and in the case of magnesium, used for many key reactions in the body. The thing about the chocolate chips is that in order to get the most nutritional benefit, it’s key to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate because the dark variety has more of the healthy cocoa bean.
See? It’s not all bad, but like I mentioned above, it’s all about moderation and avoiding consuming too much of anything, including holiday cookies. So pick and choose which ones you REALLY want, and let the rest go. Overall to promote a healthy lifestyle and eating pattern, it’s important to include what you love and make good choices in order to find a balance.
If you’re looking for some great (and healthier) cookie’s try these: