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Tucked into our festive desserts, spirits and other decadent food is a secret gift for our health. The savory aroma of many traditional holiday delights comes from spices, which are filled with nutrients that help suppress cancer, prevent or manage diabetes, enhance our immunity and much more.

Nutmeg may also reduce our risk of heart disease


A holiday star, essential in mulled cider and wine and baked goods, cinnamon may reduce the risk of heart disease along with other possible benefits.

When a team of researchers reviewed high-quality trials of cinnamon, publishing their results in the September – October, 2013 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, they reported that cinnamon can improve both blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The science is clearest on its impact on blood sugar levels. In fact, in research with type 2 diabetics conducted by scientists at Thames Valley University, in Great Britain, published in the December, 2009 issue of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, they found that a half to two teaspoons of cinnamon reduced blood sugar levels by 10 to 29 percent.

Researchers from the University of Colombo, in Australia tested Ceylon cinnamon on animals and reported numerous benefits in the December, 2012 issue of Diabetic Medicine. The spice stimulated the release of insulin, reduced fasting blood sugar levels, and increased HDL “good” cholesterol. It also showed beneficial effects against two big risks of diabetes, nerve pain and kidney disease.


What would eggnog be without nutmeg? The comfort we feel from our spiced spirits may come in part from the mild sedative, anti-anxiety and pain-relieving effects of two compounds in nutmeg: myristicin and elemicin. A mice study by a team from Guru Jambheshwar University in India, published in the Spring, 2006 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food, concluded that nutmeg works similar to an antidepressant. Myristicin can even make you euphoric in large doses. Be careful: consuming more than two tablespoons of nutmeg can lead to nausea, dizziness, and hal­lucinations. Stick to a quarter teaspoon of this sweet woodsy spice in your dishes and you can enjoy its benefits, as long as you don’t overdo it—a good message to consider throughout the holiday season.

Nutmeg may also reduce our risk of heart disease. According to researchers at Gyeongsang National University in Korea, writing in a study published in the January, 2008 issue of Bioorganic Medicinal Chemistry Letters, the spice helps prevent plaque in the arteries.


Think warm gingerbread cookies. Do watch out not to eat too much sugar, but know that ginger is practically a pharmacy. (See Ornish Living’s “Simple Ingredient Swaps for Holiday Favorites” for more holiday cooking tips.)

According to a review by a team from Father Muller Medical College in India, published in the June, 2013 issue of Food Function, research has begun to back up the many traditional medicinal uses of this spice, an astonishing array that includes treating inflammation; arthritis; muscle aches; sore throats and fever; gastrointestinal symptoms; hypertension, stroke and diabetes; dementia; and gum disease and toothache.

Ginger protects strands of our DNA from breaking when exposed to free radicals, which damage the body over time, according to researchers at the University of Florida in a landmark study published in the August, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Demonstrating that several spices work as anti-inflammatories, the team found that ginger was especially potent.


This soft and savory herb is a classic in holiday stuffing and provides a warm, seasonal flavor. Researchers working in the lab with human colon cancer cells at the University of Georgia reported in the August, 2011 issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that thyme, rosemary, sage, spearmint and peppermint each may help suppress their growth. Of this group, sage was the most powerful. Sage also has an anti-inflammatory effect, the University of Florida study found.

You can make holiday meals even more healthful by cutting back on fat, cholesterol and sugar. In baked goods, for example, use “flax-eggs,” which cut cholesterol and provide fiber and substitute calorie-free stevia for sugar. (See Ornish Living’s Simple Ingredient Swaps for Holiday Favorites for more holiday cooking tips.)

What is your favorite way to add healthy holiday spices?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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