Spices: Good for Your Health at the Holidays or Anytime!
If you’re looking for a reason to enjoy your eggnog, a slice of gingerbread or that mug of mulled cider during the holidays, search no more. Research suggests that a number of spices we enjoy in our favorite holiday dishes may have health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar, helping digestion, improving sleep, aiding memory and more! Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and cardamom all may have properties that can improve health.
We’ll talk about these spices, the health benefits they offer, and how you can enjoy them not just at the holidays but anytime.
(Disclaimer: Before making changes in your diet, including increased use of these spices, talk to your doctor about your current health status and any medications you might be taking.)
Certain varieties of cinnamon have been found to improve memory, attention and cognitive processing, according to Harvard Health Blog. Cinnamon also may improve circulation and stabilize blood sugar among other benefits. Look for Ceylon cinnamon (cinnamon zeylanicum or cinnamomum verum).
One of my favorite ways to enjoy cinnamon is in my morning oatmeal. A good sprinkle of cinnamon, a little brown sugar, and it’s comfort and warmth in a bowl. Cinnamon also can be added in coffee and on applesauce or fresh fruit. Don’t forget the simplicity of cinnamon toast! To try: the crunchy goodness of Megan’s Granola.
We might think of nutmeg as the spice we sprinkle on eggnog, but it offers so much more than flavor. Among its many benefits, nutmeg may induce sleep, boost your immune system, aid digestion and improve skin. It also may reduce cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and improve brain tissue recovery after strokes, says the Harvard Health Blog.
Nutmeg is the natural choice for eggnog, of course, but it’s a great way to spice up egg casseroles, pumpkin and squash dishes, baked apples, ham dishes and some cream sauces. To try: a sweet Peach Sauce to top pancakes, ice cream, yogurt and more.
Common in Jamaican recipes, allspice may relieve digestive problems, such as indigestion and gas, vomiting and diarrhea. It also may help to lower blood pressure and blood sugar.
In addition to jerk chicken, there are hundreds of ways to use allspice. Spice cakes and other desserts, soups and stews, pork and chicken dishes are just the beginning. To try: the superfood-filled Autumn Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Kale.
Ginger ale, gingerbread and gingersnaps: they probably come to mind first when we think about ginger. But ginger has some unique properties that can benefit our health. It can act as a pain reliever, according to the Harvard Health Blog. Pain associated with osteoarthritis may be improved with use of a specific ginger extract called Zintona EC. Other ginger extracts such as Eurovita Extract 77 may help with arthritis pain. Ginger also may decrease nausea and reduce inflammation. Applying ginger oil to the wrists may reduce nausea in surgical patients. In addition, ginger may decrease the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Snap up the ginger in your cabinet and add it to soups, stews, Asian dishes, fish and more. To try: the soothing comfort of Chicken Noodle Soup with Dill.
The clove-studded ham or orange might be a couple of common ways cloves are used. They offer strong antioxidant power, says the Harvard Health Blog. “Research comparing cloves with more than 1,100 other foods found that it had three time the antioxidants of the next highest source, dried oregano.” Cloves also have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. Harvard Health Blog says a compound in cloves is 29 times stronger than aspirin in preventing blood clots. Cloves can relieve nausea, toothache pain and mouth or throat inflammation.
Cloves can be used in pickled beet recipes, soups, Indian dishes, Cincinnati Chili, marinades and so much more. My favorite way to enjoy cloves is in a hot mug of chai latte.
Cardamom, which is related to ginger, acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain from free radicals, according to the Harvard Health Blog. One-half teaspoon per day for three months in conjunction with a healthy diet also lowers blood pressure and stroke risk. Cardamom also may be helpful for digestive problems, such as heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, gas and others. It may also be used for cold symptoms, particularly coughs and sore throats.
Cardamom might be a lesser-known spice for some, but it has so many uses in breads, carrot dishes, soups, cookies and pies. I admit cardamom is special to me. A few years before my dad died, I started making Swedish Pepparkakor (ginger thins) at Christmas to celebrate our family’s heritage. My dad passed away in 2005, and I’ve made Pepperkakor consistently every year to honor his memory. They’re a crispy and spicy combination of ginger, cloves, cinnamon and a whole lot of cardamom. Throw in a little grated orange peel if you like.
Ready to spice it up in a big way? Check out this Pumpkin Yogurt recipe that combines cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and nutmeg!
What are your favorite ways to use these spices? Share your ideas and recipes in the comments!