Health Benefits of Winter Spices

By Joyelle Temming, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As the days get shorter and colder, it’s always comforting to take in the fragrant smell of winter spices.  Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and anise have aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. It may surprise you that they have many health benefits too.

The winter season is synonymous with the common cold, so it’s a wonderful time to add spices to your diet that contain antibacterial properties and antioxidants that can help keep your immune system healthy! While spices should not be a substitute for medical treatment or prescription medicine under the supervision of a medical provider, incorporating spices into your daily cooking may help cut back on excessive sugar and salt as well as boost your overall well-being. All spices are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are a healthier alternative to sugar and salt to add flavor to your food.

Here are five common winter spices and their surprising health benefits:

  1. Cinnamon
  • Lowers fasting blood sugar
  • Provides relief from arthritis
  • Contains polyphenols that fight bacteria and boost your immune system
  • Lowers bad cholesterol
  • Contains antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress that can contribute to the development of chronic disease
  • Contains four grams of fiber per one tablespoon of cinnamon
  1. Cloves
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Clears the respiratory passages
  • Improves digestion
  • Contains antioxidants, particularly a compound called eugenol that has been shown to have anti-cancer properties
  • Contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as manganese, vitamin K and vitamin C
  • Strengthens immune system, improves blood clotting, and maintains brain function
  1. Nutmeg
  • Nutmeg oil is a proven pain reliever
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Relieves insomnia and depression
  • Improves cholesterol levels and regulates blood pressure levels
  • Contains antibacterial properties with the potential to inhibit activity of bacteria that causes periodontitis and helps prevent tooth decay
  1. Ginger
  • Suppresses nausea
  • Reduces bloating, gas, and constipation
  • Minimizes menstrual cramps
  • Contains enzymes and antioxidants that help fight bacterial infections and boost the immune system
  • Fights inflammation
  • Aids weight loss and has promise in decreasing body fat by preventing overeating, improving energy levels and stopping fat generation in the body
  1. Anise
  • Contains antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C
  • Excellent source of many essential B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin; contains minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium
  • Has antifungal properties specific to candida, a naturally occurring fungus found in the throat, mouth, and intestines
  • Best natural source of Shikimic acid, which is used in the anti-flu medication Tamiflu
  • May have mild sedative properties for sleep

These spices can be a great addition to recipes during the winter when fresh produce is harder to find. To maximize health benefits, keep in mind that fresh spices are recommended over dried spices.

Try these seasonal recipes with your family to incorporate winter spices into your diet:

Chai Concentrate

4 ½ cups water

1 stick cinnamon

Fresh ginger, smashed (about 5 thin slices)

7 whole cardamom pods, smashed

2 whole star anise pods

10 whole cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon orange zest

10 teaspoons loose tea or 10 tea bags

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat.  Add all of the ingredients and let steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain out the bags and spices.  Mix equal parts concentrate to milk. Will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

1 sweet potato

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup honey

1 (6 ounce) container vanilla yogurt

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners; set aside. Prick sweet potato several times with a fork and place onto a baking sheet.
  2. Bake the sweet potato in the preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Stir in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, honey, yogurt, and mashed sweet potato, just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Blend together the oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.
  6. Bake muffins in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Source: All Recipes

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Powerful Health Benefits of Pumpkin

By Sue Freck, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When pumpkins appear outside of your favorite market or store, it’s one of the first tell-tale signs of fall.  These days, they come in so many artisanal varieties, shapes, sizes and colors that they make the perfect accent to fall décor, in addition to classic jack-o-lanterns shining on the porch.

But besides their visual appeal, pumpkins are one of the most versatile and nutrient-dense vegetables in the squash family. Pumpkins are a powerhouse squash in that they are very low in fat; have zero cholesterol; are rich in dietary fiber; and are chock-full of vital antioxidants, minerals such as potassium, and vitamins. Those vitamins, such as Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, can be found in the flesh of the pumpkin. The fleshly part of the pumpkin also contains the potent antioxidant, beta-carotene, which gives it its vibrant orange color, but is also converted by the body into essential vitamin A.

One cup of canned pumpkin (not the pie mix with added sugar) contains about 83 calories, 7 grams of fiber and 504 mg of potassium. Add cooked or canned pumpkin to breakfast smoothies, Greek yogurt, or baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, or breads for a nutrition boost. Cubes of roasted pumpkin can be added to salads, stews, soups and pastas.  Additionally, scooping out the pumpkin seeds and roasting them is a quick and easy source of dietary fiber and fatty acids, which are essential in maintaining heart health. Try extending these health benefits to your canine friends by adding a couple scoops of pure canned pumpkin to your dog’s food or add to your favorite homemade dog biscuits recipe.

Pumpkin can enhance the nutrient content and flavor of many of fall’s family meals and snacks, savory or sweet. Here is a no-fuss delicious pumpkin recipe:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Recipe from Taste of Home

  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1-1/4 cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups 2% milk

Optional toppings: toasted chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, and additional brown sugar and milk

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients; stir in water and milk. Transfer to a greased (use coconut oil or canola spray) 3-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low 5 to 6 hours or until oats are tender, stirring once. **Note: This recipe can also be made in a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot on a manual setting, adjust pressure to high and cook for 10 minutes.

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Tips for Getting Your Child to Try New Fruits and Vegetables

By Caitlyn DePasquale, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Spring is upon us and this is the season that we begin to see an influx of fresh produce including fruits, vegetables and herbs in gardens and our local grocery stores. Despite the countless options you make available to your family during this time of year, do you find yourself relentlessly offering your children new fruits and vegetables just to have them turn their noses up time and time again? You aren’t alone. Most children in the U.S. do not meet their daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, according to the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

There are numerous ways you can help to increase your children’s willingness to try new fruit and vegetables this spring by allowing them to be active participants in weekly meal planning and daily meal prepping tasks. Include your children in the following task at home.

  1. Commit to Meal Planning – Allow your children to help create your weekly grocery list. Encourage them to add one or two new fruits or vegetables to your list they will be willing to try over the next week. Younger children may enjoy being challenged to choose colorful produce that range the colors of the rainbow while your older children might enjoy searching for new, healthy recipes in your cookbooks or magazines at home.
  2. Grocery Shopping – Be sure to take your children grocery shopping with you. This will provide exposure to new foods and allows an opportunity for discussion about healthy foods and eating. Challenge your children to choose foods on the perimeter of the grocery store, as these are the areas that generally house fresh, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. Steer away from the more processed, convenience foods and snacks most often found in the center aisles.
  3. Meal Preparation/Cooking – Encourage your children to participate in meal preparation and cooking. Appropriate tasks will depend on age. Delegate tasks such as setting the table, rinsing produce, mixing sauces or measuring ingredients.

These are all small ways to exposure your children to healthy eating and may help to increase interest in trying new fruits and vegetables. If time and space allow, gardening can also be a fun, interactive activity for children. Your children are sure to be more willing to try new fruits and vegetables after watching their food grow from start to finish. April marks National Gardening Month so now is a perfect time to create a family garden. While planting and maintaining a fruit and vegetable garden may seem like an overwhelming task, start small this spring by putting together a fresh herb garden with your children. Use a small pot to plant herbs such as basil, chives, parsley, mint, sage, lavender or rosemary. Fresh herbs are sure to be a fun way to add new flavors to meals and snacks!

Try this flavorful, nutrient packed dip for dipping vegetables. Children of all ages will be sure to enjoy picking the ingredients from their very own herb garden.

Whipped Fresh Herb Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

2 containers (16 ounces each) low-fat cottage cheese
¼ cup fresh chopped chives
¼ cup fresh chopped basil
¼ cup fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Combine the first six ingredients and mix well.
  2. Add black pepper to taste.

Recipe from eatright.org

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7 Health Benefits of Oatmeal

By Jenna Long, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

January is National Oatmeal Month, and there is no better time to explore the health benefits of oatmeal, and fun ways to prepare it as a way to mix up the breakfast options you’re offering to your family. Even though we live in sunny California, the temperature is starting to drop and many of us start are starting to crave warming breakfast options.

Beyond its warming properties, oats are packed with many health benefits:

  1. Naturally Whole Grain. This, therefore, means it contains all three original parts – the bran, germ, and endosperm (refined grains only contain the endosperm). Each part of the grain has valuable health benefits: brain is fiber-rich and keeps you feeling full while preventing constipation, germ is rich in B vitamins and healthy fats, and endosperm is the calorie-rich portion of the grain.
  2. Help lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol which specifically may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Increase satiety – that is to say you’ll feel full longer, which can help with busy work and school days and assist in weight maintenance.
  4. Help control blood sugar due to soluble fiber.
  5. Promote bowel regularity due to their fiber content. Try eating oats in their whole form, or for an extra boost add 1 Tbsp oat bran to hot cereal, applesauce, yogurt or smoothies.
  6. Contain unique polyphenols called acetamides, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-itching properties.
  7. Naturally gluten free. However, if you or your child are sensitive to gluten, look for certified gluten-free oats. Oats can become contaminated with gluten as they are growing and processed.

Old fashioned oatmeal, also known as “quick oats” is the most popular type of oat in the US. Steel cut oats require longer cooking time, about 20-30 minutes, but your patience will be rewarded. Steel cut oats create a rich and thick porridge with a nutty texture.

Try these easy to make, nutritious oatmeal recipes: 

Overnight Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oats

Adapted from The Yummy Life

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Apples, cut into ½ inch pieces (~3 cups chopped)
  • 1 ½ cups milk (or non-dairy substitute)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked steel cut oats
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional, or may use other sweetener)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped small)
  • 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • Optional garnishes: Chopped walnuts, raisins, additional milk

Directions:

  • Coat your slowcooker with cooking spray.
  • Add all ingredients (expect optional garnishes) to slow cooker and stir
  • Cook on low for about 7 hours
  • Wake up to a wonderfully smelling home, portion into bowls, add optional garnishes and enjoy!

Tips and fun facts:

  • It is important to not use old fashioned oats because the oatmeal will become overcooked.
  • Maple syrup is a sweetener, but also high in antioxidants.
  • Flaxseeds can be purchased in the bulk bin of your grocery store in small amounts. Be sure to choose ground over whole flax seeds, so your body can utilize its nutrients.
  • This recipe stores well in the refrigerator, which also makes meal prep for the week easy. It also freezes well.

 Oatmeal “Cookie Dough” Smoothie

Adapted from Running with Spoons

Ingredients

  • 1 medium banana, frozen
  • ¼ cup raw old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (optional health boost)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond butter
  • ½ cup vanilla almond milk (or other dairy alternative)
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  • Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth

Tips and fun facts

  • This is a great recipe for those looking for an on the go breakfast
  • Try adding in ¼-1/2 cup of fresh or frozen fruit
  • Chia seeds, like oats, are rich in fiber. They are also high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and calcium.

Healthy Homemade Granola

Ingredients

  • 5 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup honey*
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F
  • Mix wet ingredients and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then combine.
  • Spread out thin on a large baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden

Tips and fun facts:

  • *Reminder: Do not introduce honey until your baby’s 1st birthday and speaking with your doctor
  • Adding granola and fruit to your yogurt can make a great well-balanced breakfast, but may store bought granolas are high in both sugar and fat. Making your own granola is easy, saves money and all in all allows you to control the amount of sugar and fat – plus you can experiment with fun combinations of dried fruit and nuts.
  • In addition try adding chia seeds to your granola after it has been cooked for a health boost.
  • Some of our other favorite things to add to granola also include: ground flax seed, dried blueberries, chopped pistachios, ground ginger, unsweetened coconut.

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Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

By Kelsey Childs, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate over a delicious meal. While most look forward to sitting down at the table to begin the feast, few enjoy getting up from the table feeling overly stuffed. Estimates from the Calorie Control Council suggest a traditional Thanksgiving meal may contain as many as 3,000 calories, and once appetizers and beverages are included, the total can climb to a whopping 4,500 calories!

This Thanksgiving, use whole food ingredients in place of processed products to boost the nutrient content of your dishes and lighten the calorie load. Swapping full fat dairy products with reduced fat versions can further cut back on calories without impacting flavor. Check out the healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas below to see if one of these delicious dishes might have a place at your table this year.

Roasted Green Beans with Cranberries

Instead of relying on canned soups to flavor traditional green bean casseroles, try this recipe made from whole food ingredients. Cranberries, garlic, lemon, and balsamic vinegar combine to pair perfectly with roasted turkey.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted if desired, see note)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil.
  2. toss  green beans with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar directly on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the beans for 15 minutes, then stir with a spatula to promote even cooking. Continue roasting until the beans are tender, slightly browned and just starting to shrivel, about 10 minutes more. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, cranberries and walnuts and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if desired.
  3. Note: to toast the walnuts, bake them on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Recipe source: Once Upon a Chef

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Use a combination of reduced fat milk and sour cream as mashed potato mixers to yield a creamy product without the need for large amounts of butter or cream.

  • 2 lbs. (4 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put potatoes and garlic in large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil.
  2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan. Add remaining ingredients. Mash until smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon

Instead of smothering sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar, try roasting your potatoes. The natural flavor of the sweet potatoes is complemented by the simple coating of olive oil, honey and cinnamon.

Ingredients:

  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay the sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle the oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper over the potatoes.  Roast for 25-45 minutes in the oven, or until tender.

Recipe source: Food Network

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Kids Health, delivered monthly, offers “healthful” information for parents.

Related posts:

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