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The healthiest winter spices

The healthiest winter spices

The “warm” spices we often associate with the holidays not only fill the kitchen with comforting aromas, but they also may literally have a warming effect on the body. Holiday spices can help control blood sugar, enhance circulation and promote good digestive health. While spices aren’t a substitute for your doctor’s advice and/or prescription medication, incorporating spices into your diet can boost your overall well-being. Talk to your doctor before adding significant amounts of these spices to your diet.

Nancy Waldeck, a chef at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, recommends trying different spices this season.

“Spices are a great way to flavor foods while cutting back on excessive sugar and salt. They really can be fun to experiment with, and you can add the types and amounts of spices that fit your palate — all while adding a healthy dash to your cooking.”

Waldeck’s four favorite holiday spices include cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is actually tree bark that holds a tremendous amount of essential oils. It is often perceived as being sweet, but it is actually the aroma that is sweet. Just ½ to 1 teaspoon adds warmth, flavor and spice, and it has been used for centuries for its health benefits.

Health benefits:

  • Blood sugar control. If your body has trouble breaking down high-carb foods, cinnamon lessens the impact of the rise and fall of blood sugar.
  • Anti-clogging protection. A compound found in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets.
  • Heart health. It strengthens the cardiovascular system, which shields the body from heart-related disorders. It is believed that the calcium and fiber present in cinnamon provides protection against heart diseases.
  • Lowers cholesterol. Some studies have shown that just 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon included in a daily diet can lower cholesterol.
  • Antimicrobial activity. It helps prevents the growth of “bad” bacteria.

Cloves

Although most spices are excellent sources of antioxidants, cloves rank as the richest source of them all. Cloves contain an essential oil called eugenol, which is used heavily in Africa for flavoring and in medicine. Research hasn’t yet indicated dosage recommendations for health benefits.

Health benefits:

  • Anti-inflammatory characteristics. In some countries, cloves are used in dentistry work as well as in treating digestive cancers.
  • Intestinal health. Cloves help relax the smooth lining of the GI tract, which in turn helps alleviate vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal gas and stomachaches.
  • Cold prevention. Tea flavored with cloves is thought to lessen the effect of or prevent the common cold and flu.

Ginger

Ginger is an underground stem from a plant native to Asia. It is used all around the world as a warm baking spice, providing a combination of spicy and sweet flavor.

Health benefits:

  • Stomach health. Ginger is traditionally used for upset stomach and nausea. For morning sickness, research indicates 250 mg four times a day may be beneficial; for post-operative vomiting and nausea, 1 to 2 grams of powder ginger daily may relieve symptoms. 
  • Circulation. The Japanese drink ginger tea and use ginger body scrub that is thought to open circulation and provide a warming effect.
  • Antibacterial and antifungal properties. These properties can aid in the treatment of yeast infections and foot fungus. It also hinders the multiplication of bacteria in the colon thereby preventing the growth of E. coli, staphylococci, streptococci and salmonella.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is an herb that comes in a hard, nut-like form, and in nature it is surrounded by a lacy ground covering called mace. Waldeck says mace is “nutmeg on steroids” and offers even more health benefits. Ground mace can be found in some grocery stores during the holidays because it is often used in fruit cakes. Research hasn’t indicated a recommended amount of nutmeg to reap the health benefits.

Health benefits:

  • Inflammation and abdominal pain. Nutmeg is beneficial for achy joints, muscle pain, arthritis, sores and other ailments.
  • Calming effect. Nutmeg is believed to help eliminate fatigue and stress. It can also improve your concentration so you can become more efficient and focused.
  • Liver and kidney health. It can help remove toxins from these organs so they function properly.

All spices are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol, two other great reasons to add them to every dish. But to maximize their health benefits, Waldeck recommends using fresh spices over bottled.

“A spice blender is a very useful and wise investment. Just like any food, the more you retain the whole state of your spices, the more nutritional value you will get out of them. Plus, they have more flavor and will last twice as long.”

For superfood recipe ideas, visit Living Better’s Recipe Index.

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