I love giving gifts, and this time of year I get excited about presents and stocking stuffers that give back to the people I care about. I especially love foods that people can enjoy and look forward to eating that are also waistline friendly and protect their health. Here are my current top five picks for affordable, deliciously healthy gifts:
Why it's healthy: Research shows that animal-based fats, such as those in whole-milk cheeses and fatty meats, may override your body's natural "I'm full" signals, but plant-based fats help boost satiety and regulate appetite. Also, olive oil is a perfect compliment to beans and lentils. That's key because studies have found an increase in calorie burning after vegan meals, meaning plant-based foods may be used more efficiently as fuel, as opposed to being stored as fat.
Gift Idea: Garlic Gold Organic Garlic Infused Extra-Virgin Olive Oil—This versatile oil is fantastic for sautéing, grilling, marinating, tossing with beans or lentils, and drizzling on a plate as a dip for a hearty whole-grain bread. $9.95 online.
Why it's healthy: according to published research antioxidants in green tea called catechins triggered more fat loss among exercisers. In a 12-week study, a group that worked out at a moderate intensity for three hours a week and consumed a daily green tea drink containing 625 mg of catechins, the amount in about six cups of green tea, lost twice as much weight and significantly more belly fat than a group that performed the same workout routine but drank a catechin-free beverage. Some scientists believe catechins may trigger a preference for burning fat instead of carbohydrates.
Gift Idea: Numi Organic Tea Flowering Gift Set— This lovely set includes a glass teapot and six organic teas, including organic green, which turn into gorgeous blossoms inside the pot when steeped $21.75 online.
Organic Herbs and Spices
Why it's healthy: Natural seasonings like herbs and spices not only add flavor and aroma to meals, they've also been shown to improve satiety, rev up metabolism, and they're very potent sources of antioxidants, which exciting new research has linked to weight control even without a reduction in calories.
Gift Idea: Tsp Spices Organic Ground Ginger— I love these unique and portable, 1-tsp, tear-open packets. I always keep a few in my purse to sprinkle into hot or cold water or tea (especially when I travel), but they also sell organic basil, citrus zest, anise seed, and many more. $7.99 online.
Why it's healthy: In my newest book, I made a "daily dark chocolate escape" mandatory because research shows that eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day helps curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods. A recent study also found that chocolate's antioxidants may help block the breakdown of fat and carbohydrate, which means less gets absorbed from your digestive tract into your bloodstream, and therefore, is less likely to get socked away in your fat cells.
Gift idea: Mast Brothers Chocolate Bars— I love that these siblings are committed to quality and sustainability (check out the videos on their site about how they source and transport their beans), and that their handcrafted bars, which are all dark, come in incredible varieties, including Serrano Pepper and Stumptown Coffee Bean. About $10.00 per bar.
Why it's healthy: One study found that compared to those who ate the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein, people who consumed an almond-enriched diet lost more weight and had smaller waistlines and less body fat. The almond-eaters experienced a whopping 62 percent greater reduction in their body weights, a 50 percent greater loss in waist circumference, and a 56 percent greater loss of body fat.
Gift Idea: This one's DIY. Pick up some dry roasted almonds in the shell (Whole Foods carries them in the bulk section). They're pre-cracked, easy to peel and the shells are gorgeous. Place them in a pretty glass container, tie with ribbon and handwritten note and voila! You have a beautiful, thoughtful gift.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.