Holiday parties: they’re an endless sea of chocolate, cookies, pie, and cake. From social functions, to parties at the office, to celebrating with family, refined sugar and flour seem to be the guests of honor everywhere you go. You can almost feel the sugar high before it even begins. It’s enough to challenge the willpower of even the most dedicated health-conscious person. Isn’t there any sensible indulgence this time of year?

This may come as a surprise, but how about treating yourself to some eggnog? Of course, we’re talking about the homemade variety; when made with high quality ingredients, homemade eggnog can provide a surprising amount of beneficial nutrients. The individual ingredients each contribute something important, making a glass of the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Full-fat milk and cream are a great base for eggnog. Dietary recommendations regarding fat, overall, and saturated fat, in particular, have been evolving. We now know that fat—even saturated fat—can be a healthy part of a good diet. Mounting evidence indicates that the fats found in dairy foods are not associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, dairy consumption may be linked with a lower risk for poor heart health.

Additionally, if the milk and cream come from cows consuming their natural diet of grass and hay, the fat will be richer in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally-occurring trans fat found in the fat of ruminant animals (such as cows and sheep) that are primarily pasture-fed. These animals have greater concentrations of this unique type of fat than animals that primarily consume grain, such as in industrial feedlots. CLA has been shown to aid with body fat loss, and it may also help support a healthy response to inflammation.

If you avoid dairy for allergy/sensitivity reasons, or just choose not to consume it, almond and rice milks are good alternatives to traditional dairy milk. For an energy boost and support for healthy cognitive function, consider using coconut milk as the base for your eggnog. The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut products are metabolized differently than other fats and may lead to higher energy expenditure. They are also known for providing a “brain boost,” as the metabolic byproducts of medium-chain triglycerides (called ketones) are an important food for the brain. (Carbs aren’t the only fuel the brain likes!)

The other main ingredient in eggnog is, of course, eggs. Eggs are a great source of complete protein, as well as vitamin B12, riboflavin and selenium. The yellow-orange color of the yolks comes from lutein and zeaxanthin – carotenoids that may be beneficial for eye health. Eggs are one of the richest known sources of choline, an essential building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for learning and memory processing.

Egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but that’s not a bad thing. Dietary cholesterol is not the villain it’s been made out to be. Cholesterol performs many vital functions in the body. It’s a critical building block for all cell membranes, as well as the steroid hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, to name a few). It’s also required for the production of vitamin D. (When ultraviolet light from the sun strikes the skin, cholesterol undergoes a transformation that ultimately leads to vitamin D synthesis.) The cholesterol we eat (dietary cholesterol) has very little impact on the cholesterol levels that get measured in the blood (serum cholesterol). Most of the cholesterol in the body is actually produced by the body itself, because of its many critical functions. It would be almost impossible to consume as much as the body produces on its own. In fact, studies have shown that egg yolk consumption—particularly when combined with a low-carbohydrate diet—may actually improve cholesterol profiles associated with heart disease.

Another common addition to eggnog is nutmeg. Like many other “warming spices” (for example, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cayenne), nutmeg has demonstrated beneficial properties for health. It was traditionally used in Southeast Asia for stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and flatulence. Modern research has revealed that nutmeg’s essential oil may help support a healthy liver.

For a lower sugar version of eggnog, stevia and xylitol are sensible ways to sweeten things. Of course, these factors don’t automatically make eggnog an ideal health food. But compared to Aunt Ida’s sugar-glazed and candied fruit cake, homemade eggnog might be a step up!



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