Just because you’re promoting healthy gifts doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of all the tasty treats out there. In fact, you can prepare a basket, ship a snack and stuff the kids’ stockings, all without breaking the calorie bank. And if you think about it, how much happier will your friends and family be to receive goodies that are actually good for them rather than seeing another Christmas tree spilling over with fattening chocolates and cookies?
We’ll start with Vitalicious, which makes low-cal VitaTops, VitaMuffins and VitaBrownies, as well as sugar-free and low-carb treats. The average 2-ounce VitaTop has about 100 calories, and a 4-ounce VitaMuffin has 200 calories. They’re a portion-controlled way to satisfy any muffin, cake or brownie craving. You can order any of five Holiday Samplers, which include a variety of Vitalicious products and range in price from $28 to $40. For instance, the Sampler Gift of Health has 10 4-ounce VitaMuffins and six 2-ounce VitaTops gift-wrapped in an attractive basket adorned with a beautiful ribbon for about $35. Order at vitalicious.com, or call 877-VITA-877.
Another option is a fruit-of-the-month subscription, which brings tasty, nutritious treats to the doorstep all year round. In addition to being a true gift that keeps on giving, such clubs also introduce people to new, healthy treats. Try harryanddavid.com (877-322-1200), thefruitcompany.com (800-387-3100), or for fruit baskets try manhattanfruitier.com (800-841-5718). Fruit baskets start at about $30; fruit of the month starts at $199.
A top-notch piece of home-fitness equipment can be the best gift of the season — but think long and hard before you tie a bow on a treadmill, because this gift could become the most expensive coat rack you’ll ever buy. But if you know someone who likes to walk, jog or run — it’s a great time to give a treadmill. It will be an extremely effective, health-conscious present. Here’s the rundown on the type of equipment available and your best bets for making a good choice:
As far as treadmills, according to Consumer Reports, a $400-$700 model is fine for walkers. Occasional runners need a sturdier machine costing $800 to $1,800. Committed runners are best served by one costing $2,200 or more. The machines that tested the best in Consumer Reports’ tests are the Landice L7 Series Pro Sports Trainer, $2,900 (landice.com, 800-LANDICE); the True Z4 HRC, $2,300; the Precor M 9.31, $3,000; and the Schwinn 820P, $1,300 (schwinn.com, 800-782-4799).
Another option is an elliptical trainer. These machines are especially good for people with joint problems, since the design dramatically reduces pressure on the knees and shins. The best choice is from Precor, the company that patented the Elliptical Crosstrainer (precor.com, 800-4PRECOR). However, keep in mind that these machines are very expensive, starting at about $2,700. You can also purchase them used or refurbished — start by checking ebay.com.
If you’re looking to go all out — maybe a family present to improve everyone’s health — design your own home gym. The average home gym fits into a 12-by-12-foot room but can also work in an 8-by-10-foot room. Home fitness equipment used to be poorly made and not very effective, but today, as more people choose to work out at home, these gyms have become better constructed and more affordable, starting around $1,000. For instance, the ParaBody GS1 Home Gym is $999 (omnifitness.com). Another popular product, Life Fitness G5 Cable Motions (http://us.home.lifefitness.com/content.cfm/g5), costs almost $3,000. This machine is designed to deliver resistance through cables (rather than steel and metal bars), allowing you to easily tailor your workout to different areas and specific muscles. If you want to go with free weights (bench and “smith” machine), Men’s Health recommends the HF-985 Hoist Fitness Half Cage Ensemble for $2,700 (hoistfitness.com) as the best home gym of the year.
It may be an age-old tradition in some parts of the world, but tea is on the fast track to becoming the new hot health food. Green and black teas provide antioxidant power, while a host of herbal teas claim to ease every malady from sleep deprivation to back pain to the common cold. An assortment of tea makes an excellent present — a delicious, low-calorie treat that could also provide a plethora of health benefits.
Serengeti Tea (serengetitea.com) not only offers wonderful teas, but also packages them in cool little pouches that disperse colorfully when dropped in water. They offer iced as well as hot teas in flavor blends such as blackberry, mango and peach.
Adagio Teas (adagio.com) has a huge selection, as well as a sizable variety of gift packages, from assorted teas to sophisticated combinations of teas and tea-brewing equipment. Prices range from $15 to $75.
One of my all-time favorite tea concepts is from Sencha Naturals (senchanaturals.com). They make mints from organically produced green tea extracts, so you can get your dose from a mint if you’re not in the mood for a cup of tea. They taste great, especially the lemongrass mints. A container of these mints costs around $4 and makes a great stocking stuffer (teatreasures.com).
If your friends aren’t ready to switch to tea, order JavaFit coffee instead (javalution.com). These coffees provide various health benefits, including calcium enrichment (to compensate for the slight calcium loss caused by caffeine), vitamin-infusion and extreme energy.
Yoga and Pilates
And speaking of current trends, we couldn’t get by without mentioning yoga, another age-old tradition on the cusp of mainstream explosion. Yoga mats, classes, DVDs and even Yoga Paws (yogasyz.com) all make excellent gifts for friends and family who love to be on the cutting edge of fitness.
Whether you’re shopping for someone who wants to start a yoga program or is already practicing, consider the Yoga Fan, a thick but simple book (about 11/2 inches thick and wide) with great descriptions of poses and postures that will walk you through a basic yoga routine. As a beginning yoga student, I loved it. Pick it up for $14.95 at trainingfan.com.
Another possibility for a newcomer or even the die-hard yoga addict is a gift certificate for classes at a local studio. Usually these can be redeemed for any type of class at any level. Visit yogajournal.com and use the “class search” tool to find studios and classes in your area.
Though by no means devoted only to yoga, Crescent Moon (crescentmoonyoga.com) produces a collection of high-end, innovative and stylish accessories to enhance the yoga/pilates and spa lifestyle. Their offerings include mat carriers made of sea-grass to leather, mats and rugs, their best-selling ExerSocks (designed to grip the floor), and the amazing SteadyGrip Yoga/Pilates mat, which has dual-density memory-foam material for grip and comfort without any unnecessary bounce — basically your hands and feet sink into the mat for a better grip ($49.99). They also have a great selection of yoga kits such as the Deluxe “Black” Linen Yoga Kit for about $100 — everything you need to motivate someone to get started.
A great gift for those in need of a little help with portion control is Zevro’s Indispensable Dispenser SLS 100 in brushed stainless steel (zevro.com), which looks kind of like a gumball machine and costs about $60. Stylish and functional, it’s designed so that four turns of a crank deliver about one serving of cereal from its spout into your bowl — perfect for those groggy, early-morning dieters who have a habit of gulping down four servings of Cheerios before they even wake up. Find it at the Container Store, as well as amazon.com or cooking.com.
Another neat invention and subtle gift for health promotion is the vacuum-sealer ($30 to $300, depending on style and size). It’s great for portion control and pre-cooking, allowing you to divide meals into desired portion sizes and reheat as needed. Rival makes the Seal-a-Meal(r) Vacuum Food Sealer with Soft Seal Vacuum Control — it has a switch that allows you to seal delicate foods without crushing them. The product retails for about $70; however amazon.com lists it for $59.99. Keep in mind that you have to buy rolls to seal with, about $10 each (rivalproducts.com).
Books make wonderful, long-lasting gifts. Each year, Cooking Light magazine produces a cookbook compiling all 900 recipes that appeared in the magazine the previous year. This year’s is Cooking Light: Annual Recipes 2006. The list price is $34.95, but the book is available for under $24 on amazon.com. Or order an advance copy of Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge (Broadway, $17.95), the forthcoming book (to be released Dec. 20) by Brooke Siler, probably the best-known Pilates instructor in New York. Another book by the makers of the Yoga Fan is the Training Fan, also a wonderfully designed, compact book that explains how to do more than 70 strength-training exercises (trainingfan.com, $24.95).
Shape magazine recommends Power Up: the Best of Rodney Yee (amazon.com, $26.99), a compilation of the yoga guru’s best work that provides viewers with a number of different workouts. The magazine also recommends its own DVD, Shape Your Butt, Hips, and Thighs (shapeboutique.com, $19.99). Self magazine’s Slim and Sleek Fast DVD (amazon.com, $10.99) is also a total body workout that keeps your heartbeat up for 45 minutes. The exercises are easy to follow and well-paced, so they’re perfect for beginners, but the DVD also includes a more advanced version for the more experienced. And Fitness magazine selected Get Ripped by Jari Love (collagevideo.com, $19.95) and Brazilian Dance Workout (collagevideo.com, $14.95) among its top 10 DVDs.