Antioxidants in cocoa are believed to improve the flexibility of blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa than does milk chocolate, and thus, contains more of the helpful compounds. It might also help relieve stress. Nearly an ounce and a half a day for two weeks lowered levels of stress hormones in stressed-out volunteers, a 2009 study found. Chocolate is not without calories, though, so eat in moderation.
Herbs and spices
Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and other oft-used holiday flavorings are beneficial, too. Research has found that ginger helps relieve nausea, for example, and ginger tea is a home remedy for colds and certain viral infections. Some research suggests cinnamon may help diabetics better manage their blood sugar levels, but that doesn't mean binging on maple-cinnamon pumpkin pie is healthy. "[Cinnamon] does not antidote carbs," says Adriane Fugh-Berman, a specialist in herbal medicine and dietary supplements at Georgetown University. Clove oil has historically been used to dull toothaches while oil from peppermint—another seasonal favorite—is a centuries-old aid for digestion. In the heartburn-prone, however, peppermint may cause more pain than pleasure, says Fugh-Berman. One big bonus of using herbs and spices: They may reduce the need for salt or sugar, says Thayer.