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Moderation Maven

Dishing up the best ingredients for a healthy lifestyle
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Drink to Your Health this Holiday Season

The holidays are now in full swing, and you've probably received numerous invitations to parties if you haven't attended a few already. Celebrations almost inevitable revolve around tasty treats, but while hard-to-resist goodies are often blamed for weight gain, beverages are often overlooked as a potential source of extra calories.

Have you been starting off your days with peppermint mochas or pumpkin lattes? Coffee drinks can be delicious, especially when loaded with cream, sugar, and topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. While this is a tasty way to enjoy this beverage, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Coffee contains many components which have been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, various cancers, and even Alzheimer's disease. These benefits get overshadowed by high-calorie additions such as sugar and cream. Try adding extra punch to your pick-me-up by using flavored coffee grounds, skim milk or fat free creamer, or sugar-free flavored syrups. This way, you can still enjoy seasonal concoctions with far fewer calories.

Tea is also full of health benefits. Epigallocatechin-3 gallate, or EGCG, is a component found in green tea that may protect against certain cancers. Tea also contains polyphenols, which can offer protection against cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Just like coffee, tea can also be overloaded with extras that may take away from the benefit of drinking it in the first place. To stay on the healthy side, be adventurous and try different types and flavors of teas, add lemon, a little honey, or just some skim milk and sugar-free sweetener to enhance the flavors of your tea.

As for alcoholic drinks, red wine is known for its link to heart health, but did you know that beer can also be heart-healthy? Polyphenols in beer and wine are linked to lower risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. No one style of beer or wine is better than another, so pick based on your personal preference.

Now, things get a bit more complicated when we start mixing drinks. There are several health roadblocks we can run into when talking about treats like eggnog, martinis, Irish coffee, or spiked hot chocolate. These cocktails can be high in calories since they usually involve milk, cream, syrups, and whipped topping. Plus, mixed drinks often contain several different kinds of alcohol. When it comes to mixed drinks, portion control is key, especially now that oversized martini glasses and the like have become quite common.

Overall, all types of alcohol can be part of a healthy diet when enjoyed in small amounts. The health benefits of alcohol are not a reason to start drinking if you abstain, but make sure you enjoy in moderation if you do partake. Drinking more than is recommended will not afford you more health benefits, but will certainly add a significant amount of calories to your diet. Furthermore, indulging too much is associated with higher rates of cancer and other problems. So what is moderation when it comes to alcohol? Women should limit themselves to one drink per day, while men may have two. One "drink" counts as 12 oz of regular beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.

It sure can be easy to forget about calories in beverages when we are so concerned with resisting fudge, peppermint bark, and snowman-shaped cookies. But the preceding advice does not just apply to the holiday season, but also to every day of the year. Keep your drinks "skinny" and simple most of the time but enjoy the real thing once in a while. It'll be better for you and your waistline – yet still good for the soul.

Thanks to Emily Radlowski, UI Dietetic Intern, for her assistance in writing this article.

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