Friday, Dec. 21, 2012
Food Matters: Many 'Christmas foods' have a place in a healthy diet
By Chuck Newcomb
I love figs but to this day I have never had figgy pudding. Is that a traditional food at Christmas time? Mrs. Cratchet served it to Tiny Tim, and the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" has singers demanding someone bring some "...right here!". They say they won't even leave until they get some. It must be some pretty good stuff. It could be that I have been hanging around the wrong people.
There are some other foods associated with Christmas that we seldom see any other time of the year. Eggnog is great. Whether with brandy and ground nutmeg, served straight up, whole fat or low fat, it is good. Eggnog flavored coffee is a special treat in the coffee shops around the holidays but disappears in January. I suppose they have eggnog-flavored ice cream to put on pumpkin pie but I think I would stick with the vanilla anyway.
Popcorn on a string is very clever and should come in a bag in movie theaters. It would certainly be easier to share with your friends down the aisle. Do they have caramel popcorn on a string?
And even though fruitcake gets a bad rap, I will admit I have had some that were great. Fortunately fruitcake seems to last a long time when wrapped and kept in the refrigerator. My wife makes a fruit cake that is actually a sweet bread with dried fruits that we give to the neighbors and special friends. I hope they are not just being polite and passing it on to their relatives they see once a year.
Chestnuts are a real unique treat and something few people seem to even consider trying. The kind found in the song and "roasting on an open fire" should not be confused with horse chestnuts that are poisonous or water chestnuts that are crunchy and wonderful in Chinese food. During the holidays on the streets of New York City you can find smoky rolling carts with vendors selling bags of whole roasted chestnuts, still warm and very delicious. It's not always easy to find chestnuts but they are available usually frozen or fresh packed and refrigerated. Chestnuts are grown around the world and in places like Iowa and are low fat, unlike other "nuts". They are especially good cooked in red cabbage.
Candy canes are usually associated with Christmas and probably are so popular because they are candy that many kids think grows on trees. Our Christmas tree, on the other hand, is loaded with foil-wrapped hanging Swiss chocolate that look like little pine cones. Somehow children of all ages instinctively know that beneath the shiny foil is something edible and tasty.
Tamales are a big hit at Christmas time, although they can be found any time of year. It seems though that they can only be made in vary large batches so that leftovers must get passed around to all the neighbors.
And finally, milk and cookies for Santa. Cookies at Christmas time are so totally different from the rest of the year with frosting and sprinkles, and they are so artfully done.
With all of the variety of fun and interesting foods and drinks during the Holiday it's no wonder we often overdo it. But, all foods can fit one way or another into a healthy lifestyle.
Chuck Newcomb, MS, RD, CDE is a consulting Registered Dietitian currently providing medical nutrition therapy services for Memorial Hospital Los Banos. He has a Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. E-mail questions to the Attention of ChuckRD at: MHALosBanos@SutterHealth.org or on his website MySmartRD.com.