Holiday Treats: Smarter Indulgences to Support Bone Health

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Eat, drink, and be merry! As that clarion call of the holiday season rings out across the land, we cast our usual caution aside and enjoy the rich eggnog, the salty snacks, the fried treats and cookies and cupcakes and traditional holiday breads that appear every December like clockwork.


    But holiday feasting doesn’t all have to be “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips.” There are actually some festive foods that add value to the diet – by increasing your calcium and/or vitamin D intake. Check out five of my favorite bone-healthy holiday treats.


    Light eggnog

    Did I hear someone offer me a glass of eggnog? There’s nothing like the rich, thick creaminess, the distinctive nutmeg/rum flavor of this traditional holiday drink. And guess what? If you choose light (reduced calorie) eggnog, you won’t sacrifice any flavor (I promise), and you’ll be getting 15% of your daily calcium requirement – in natural, not supplement form. One caveat: don’t guzzle this stuff; even the light version is calorie-heavy. A half-cup serving (size-wise, think a small glass of wine) is the perfect size for sipping. 

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    Not into eggnog? Try an orange juice/vanilla yogurt smoothie enhanced with a touch of vanilla extract. Yogurt and fortified OJ both offer a lot of calcium.


    Ricotta Pie 

    In many Italian households, it’s just not Christmas without ricotta pie, Italy’s answer to New York’s deli cheesecake. One slice of ricotta pie packs an amazing 337mg calcium – more than 25% of your daily requirement. Plus, the eggs in this light and flavorful cheesecake/pie add vitamin D, calcium’s best friend. Make it with a crust including ground almonds (Nature’s highest-calcium nut), and you’re golden – just like the rich filling in this pie. Check out my favorite recipe for Ricotta Pie.  


    Not a baker? You can still enjoy ricotta cheese. Remember the South Beach diet? I followed it for a year or so, and revert to it whenever I want to lose a few pounds. And there’s one part of it I’ve never quit: their suggestion for a simple ricotta dessert. Scoop ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese into a bowl. Sweeten to taste. Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. Simple. Easy. Ridiculously tasty. And calcium-rich.


    Almond-stuffed dates

    Speaking of almonds, many types of nuts are good for you There’s evidence they lower cholesterol and improve heart health, and they’re packed with the “good” fats your body needs, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the FDA has approved a heart-health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some types of pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.

    Of the FDA-approved nuts above, almonds are highest in calcium, with 72mg per ounce (about 20 to 24 nuts). About 1 ½ ounces per day offers heart-healthy benefits – though remember, nuts are high in calories, so you need to figure them into your daily diet, not just eat them by the handful. (2011, Hamel)

    One of my favorite holiday treats has always been dried dates stuffed with nuts. Serendipitously, dates are one of the highest-calcium fruits you can eat. So, stuff a whole almond into a pitted date, roll in confectioners’ sugar, and there you have it: a sweet, nutty, heart- and bone-healthy treat. And just 10 of these – trust me, you’ll eat that many as you sit at the table and chat – includes 190mg of calcium, nearly 20% of your daily goal. 


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    Cereal snacks

    Big bowls of crunchy, salty munchies are a given at any informal holiday party. Pretzels, chips and dip, crackers, popcorn, all of these are de rigueur at any hors d’oeuvres and drinks gathering. But next time you find yourself grabbing for a handful of taco chips at the drink table, think twice – is there something better you could choose?


    Could be – if you see Chex Party Mix, a buttery mixture of Chex cereal, nuts, and pretzels that’s been making the rounds for decades. Lucky for you, Chex, like many breakfast cereals these days, is fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. Just 1 serving – 1 cup – includes 10% of your daily goal for both calcium and vitamin D. And you’ll almost certainly consume more than a cup of Party Mix with your glass of wine – which, if you’re a post-menopausal woman, is also good for your bones. (Guys, grab a beer – it’s better for YOUR bones than wine.)


    Beans. They’re on everyone’s list of health foods, aren’t they? Packed with fiber and protein, they’re nutritional powerhouses. But beans are so… boring.

    Alone, maybe. But spice them up, and they take on a whole new life. And I don’t just mean baked beans, or bean salad. Navy or white beans (find them canned, on your supermarket shelf) are high in calcium, with 127mg per cup of whole beans. They’re also fiber-rich: nearly 12g per cup.

    Make a healthy, delicious spread for crackers or toasted pita chips by turning navy beans into a simple hummus: just combine drained canned beans, garlic, a touch of olive oil, and salt, and whirl in a blender or food processor. Cumin is your spice of choice here. Try my favorite simple hummus recipe, substituting navy beans for chickpeas.


    And there you have it: five party foods you can enjoy – and your bones can appreciate. Happy holidays!  




    Hamel, P. (2011, June 08). Calcium: 10 different (and tasty) sources. Retrieved from

Published On: December 01, 2012