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5 Holiday Spices That Could Help Boost Health

The holidays are here, and we are all getting ready to head into the kitchen to make that favorite meal. Most of us associate holiday food with overindulgence and sneaking in ingredients that we would not normally eat. Thankfully, some holiday dishes are actually loaded with healthy ingredients. Many of the spices used around the holidays have unknown health benefits and should be enjoyed this holiday season. Use this list of holiday spices in your favorite dishes this season.

Cinnamon

Pumpkin pie, sweet potato soufflé and many other holiday desserts are home to this aromatic spice. Cinnamon is best known for its warming smell and helps us identify the arrival of the holiday season. Cinnamon has a number of health benefits, many of them stemming from compounds in cinnamon oil. There are two types of cinnamon, Cassia cinnamon which is more widely available, and Ceylon or Chinese cinnamon.

Derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, cinnamon has been found to contain a high level of manganese, a mineral important in blood sugar regulation. In fact, cinnamon has been shown to lower glucose and lipid levels in diabetics. Cinnamon also has antimicrobial and anti fungal properties, with some studies showing that it is effective against candida. Finally, cinnamon may play a role in Alzheimer’s prevention. (1,2)

While the doses of cinnamon needed to exert a therapeutic effect can range from 6-10 grams, an amount tough to get in your favorite recipes, adding cinnamon through your favorite dishes can help to build that “healthy” factor in your holiday recipes.

Nutmeg

Originating in Indonesia, nutmeg is derived from a tree now found in the Caribbean and South India. Nutmeg is a high mineral spice, containing magnesium, potassium and zinc. It has been used as a brain booster, since two compounds derived from nutmeg, myristicin and macelignan, have been found to balance neural pathways and may be able to improve focus. The rich magnesium content of nutmeg has also been found to help with relaxation and sleep. (3)

There are many other home remedies associated with nutmeg, including using the spice as a pain reliever or for indigestion. Mixing nutmeg with some honey has been used to heal acne, while mixing with chick pea flour is thought to remove blackheads. Too many holiday sweets? Try using the essential oil to help boost focus.

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Ginger

One of the best known digestive aids, ginger contains the active compound gingerol, which has been shown to help indigestion, nausea and vomiting. This same compound also has anti-inflammatory properties, assisting in relief of joint pain and inflammation. (4)

Fresh ginger contains more active gingerol than dried ginger and can be kept in the fridge for up to three weeks or in the freezer for as long as six months. Add grated or sliced fresh ginger to your teas, sweets and stews to lower your inflammatory load this holiday season.

Star Anise

An original Chinese spice, star anise comes from the fruit of a tree in China. Chinese star anise is thought to have health benefits, while Japanese star anise is poisonous. The health benefits of star anise are traced back to the compound shikimic acid, which resembles the drug ostelmavir, used to fight the flu. Star anise has anti fungal and anti-candida properties as well.

Star anise is often used to flavor teas and desserts, while the essential oil is used in many perfumes. Consider adding this aromatic spice to your favorite holiday dishes to balance your sugar load and risk for Candida, a yeast that naturally occurs in our microbiome, but can get out of balance with overindulgence!

Cardamom

Both a digestive aid and an antiseptic, the essential oil of cardamom is one of the few spices that has high amounts of iron and manganese. The oil of cardamom can be used topically to heal infections and as an anesthetic. In many countries, the entire pod of cardamom was boiled with ginger and other spices to relieve digestive discomfort after dinner. (5)

Today, cardamom is used in many desserts, drinks and rice dishes throughout the Middle East. Add this spice to your kitchen cabinet and add the essential oil to your first aid kit.

Enjoy this holiday season and experiment with spices from around the world. These spices can help navigate the continuum between health and holiday excess, helping us all to have a healthy holiday season.

sources:
1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26560460
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26475130

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25917324
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26403321
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25593391

Posted: 12/03/2015    Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. 

Dr. Taz MD, Back to the Heart of Medicine. Best selling Author, Integrative Health Expert, Prevention/Wellness


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7 Spices Loaded with Serious Flavor—And Incredible Health Benefits

by Michelle Pellizzon for Thrive Market    November 9, 2015 

Cayenne pepper really hit its prime in the early aughts. When Giselle Bundchen credited cayenne with helping maintain her slim, Victoria’s Secret-worthy figure, the spice was suddenly stylish.
It’s almost too easy—just a pinch of some magic powder and suddenly you’re a fat-burning machine? Well maybe not a machine, but fiery cayenne does seem to have an effect on increasing the metabolism. It’s well documented that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that give Advil a run for its money, and cinnamon is coveted amongst those with metabolic disorders thanks to its blood sugar-lowering effect.

The rest of your spice rack isn’t to be overlooked—there are some superfood seasonings hidden in the pantry that are worthy of a little more love. Put down the salt and start cooking with these spices—your blood pressure, waistline, and tastebuds will thank you.

Paprika

Sweet, spicy, smoky—paprika comes in tons of different flavors and varieties, but it’s always a vibrant brick red. Thanks to its plenitude of antioxidants that impart its quintessential color, paprika is also full of vitamins A and E. Together, they fight free radical damage in the body, but vitamin A also promotes cell growth and recovery, which supports anti-aging.

Fennel

With its distinct taste and smell, fennel is often loved or loathed. If you fall into the latter category, this classic Italian seasoning is worth your adoration—full of phytonutrients, fennel has been proven to have anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. A special phytonutrient called anethole found in fennel has been linked to slowing the growth of cancer cells and apoptosis, or cell death, in breast cancer cells. Additionally, fennel’s antioxidants can help reverse damage to liver cells… So after a really rough night out, look to this spice to help heal your hangover.

Cloves

Especially popular in some of the most beloved holiday foods—gingerbread, hot toddies, and pumpkin pie, to name a few—cloves are a warming and aromatic addition to any dish. Along with their lovely flavor, cloves impart another interesting element to dishes: eugenol. A compound found specifically in clove oil, eugenol is incredibly effective at protecting the body from external toxins found in the environment, like carbon tetrachloride. It’s also a potent natural pesticide, so mixing a little clove oil into your lotion can ward off annoying mosquitos and bugs.

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Bay Leaves

You don’t really realize how important bay leaves are to Grandma’s chicken noodle soup, your favorite bolognese sauce, or classic cooked beans until you accidentally forget to throw one into the mix. When you do overlook these dried leaves, it’s clear that something is missing. Although the pungent, almost bittersweet flavor of bay leaves isn’t necessarily appetizing on its own, when added into dishes and left to simmer, they impart a little extra depth and dimension. Plus, as it turns out, these leaves also bring some pharmacological properties to the table.

Even dried, bay leaves help the digestive system function properly, acting as a diuretic and eliminating toxins. They also contain a plethora of B-vitamins that support the nervous system to increase energy and amp up the metabolic rate.

Thyme

Whether fresh or dried, thyme deserves a permanent place in your pantry, especially during the fall and winter months. The woody and aromatic herb has been used for centuries in aromatherapy to treat illness, but it’s proven over time to be a powerful antimicrobial treatment. In fact, thyme actually encourages a healthy immune system by increasing white blood cell formation. Next time you feel a chill coming on, throw some thyme into almost any savory dish to reap the immune-boosting benefits of this spice.

Black pepper

Try not to roll your eyes. Black pepper—no duh! Of course you already know about this spice. But before you skim to the next incredible ingredient, reconsider black pepper for its fat-burning powers. Yep, you read that right. That freshly ground black pepper you’ve been declining at restaurants for years can actually help your body break down fat cells. Plus, pepper raises core body temperature, forcing the body to eliminate toxins via sweat.

Nutmeg

Too often, nutmeg is relegated to holiday treats (what’s up, eggnog), but there are plenty of reasons to throw nutmeg into your cooking all year round. Nutmeg has long been used as a home remedy for insomnia—and there’s actually something to this old wives tale.

This spice has a high magnesium content, which has been proven to help those who suffer through restless nights fall asleep and relax far more easily than normally. The powerful antioxidants myristicin and elemicin found in nutmeg fight inflammation and pain, and some researchers believe actually slow down the deterioration of neural pathways in the brain. Slow down aging and maintain memory for a long time? Sounds like it’s time to start adding nutmeg to every morning cup of joe.


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4 Herbs Everyone Should Have in their ‘Medicine’ Cabinet

ELIZABETH RENTER     OCTOBER 28, 2013

There are perhaps hundreds, or at least dozens of medicinal foods and herbs that deserve a place in your kitchen’s herbal medicine cabinet. But for someone who is just getting their feet wet in the world of herbalism and natural healing, collecting numerous herbs can be overwhelming. For that reason, we’ve chosen 4 healing herbs to get you started—herbs that should be the cornerstones of every natural healer’s arsenal.

From calming upset stomachs to killing cancer cells, these 4 herbs have been shown time and time again to provide incredible healing powers.

1. Turmeric

Turmeric has numerous health benefits and is easy to incorporate in your cooking. The spice can reduce inflammation, fight depression, cut heart disease and diabetes risk, and has been researched extensively for its ability to beat cancer. Scientists from around the world have found turmeric to positively impact over 581 different diseases and conditions. It is one of the most well-researched spices on the planet.

While we commonly think of turmeric as the yellow spice in curries, you can reap it’s medicinal benefits in other ways as well. Golden milk tea or golden milk is one way people from the Middle East have taken turmeric for ages. Just make sure you know how to optimize turmeric absorption to reap the most benefits.

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2. Ginger

Like turmeric, ginger is a root. Also like turmeric, the health benefits of ginger are amazing. The herb is particularly good at calming digestion, but can also fight cancer, inflammation, and boost your immune system. Ginger tea is an elixir that can be used for colds, sore throats, and upset stomach. Simply simmer some slivers of ginger in water for 5 minutes, cool slightly and drink. Add a little local honey to supercharge it’s benefits.

3. Oregano

It’s not just for pizza; oregano has healing qualities that go far beyond its culinary allure. It’s loaded with vitamin K and manganese, and is packed-full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Research has linked this culinary herb with weight loss, digestive health, combating foodborne pathogens and relieving pain.

Oregano is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. You can grow your own oregano quite easily and then use it fresh or dried, or find oregano oil in health food stores.

4. Basil

Another culinary herb, basil has many health benefits as well. Its antibacterial properties make it a contender for fighting serious infections including listeria monocytogenes, staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli. The herbs high levels of the flavonoid zeaxanthin make it a great solution for protecting eye health and preventing age-related macular degeneration. Also like oregano, basil is easy to grow. Here are some other holy basil benefits.

Starting a healing kitchen doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These four healing foods are a good place to start.


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7 Spices with Major Health Benefits

Jordyn Cormier   April 18, 2015

Spices are a great thing to have in your pantry. They have the ability to turn a healthy, slightly bland meal into a nutritious flavor explosion. What’s even better, many spices are really great for your health, with loads of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Here are 9 everyday, super spices that you should use more of.

Oregano. Vitamin K is a hard-to-find nutrient for many people, but a teaspoon of oregano actually has 6 micrograms. It’s also loaded with antioxidants. Some research has shown that oregano essential oil can actually effectively ward off the stomach flu.

Cinnamon. Believe it or not, this spice can help to regulate blood sugar levels. For those with pre-diabetes, it is well known to reduce fasting blood glucose levels and can be extremely beneficial in insulin management for the insulin resistant. Research has shown that consuming half a teaspoon a day can actually reduce the risk for diabetes and heart disease within only 6 weeks.

Rosemary. Cooking meat at high temperatures can produce harmful free radicals. Incredibly, marinating meat in a mixture containing rosemary has the potential to reduce the formation of free radicals by as much as 84%. Not only that, but rosemary’s aromatic qualities can heighten a meal for all of your senses.

Nutmeg. Incredibly, nutmeg has strong antibacterial properties. It also has many anti-inflammatory compounds that have the potential to stifle tumor growth and reduce your risk of certain cancers.

 

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Curry powder. Every curry powder blend is different, but a mainstay in all of them is turmeric. Turmeric is a wonder spice — it’s hugely anti-inflammatory. In fact, its powerful anti-inflammatory agent — curcumin — is 50 times more potent than vitamin C. Studies have also shown that curcumin has the potential to inhibit the growth of certain breast cancer cells. Plus, curry is like a party for your palate.

Cumin. Iron deficient? A tablespoon of cumin seeds provides 22% of your RDA! It’s also excellent in refried beans or when making homemade taco seasoning. Grind the seeds fresh for the greatest potency.

Cayenne pepper. Capsaicin may boost your body’s metabolic furnace, helping you to burn more calories. The heat can also induce you to eat less and crave less fatty, salty foods. Therefore, cayenne pepper is thought to assist in healthy weight and appetite management. Sprinkle some on some avocado deviled eggs for a tasty, super healthy lunch!

Spice up your life! They’ll make your meals tastier and boost your health in the process. Just remember, it’s best to purchase whole spices and grind them fresh before you use them. This way, they maintain the highest amount of antioxidants and benefits. Also be sure to check the ‘best by’ date to ensure that they are fresh.


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5 Spices That Are The Most Powerful Antioxidants

Kara, selected from TreeHugger    January 5, 2015

Spices are a rich source of polyphenols, which means we should all be eating more of them. Polyphenols are powerful anti-oxidants that neutralize the free radicals formed by constant sun exposure and anti-microbial agents that are plants’ primary defense mechanism against microbiological attack. By ingesting foods that contain high levels of polyphenols, humans boost their immune systems, reduce cellular inflammation, and maintain an optimal balance between the good and bad microbes that live in our digestive tracts.

Adding more spices to your diet is one way to increase the number of polyphenols entering your body on a regular basis, although, as Dr. Barry Sears explains in The Mediterranean Zone, you need to have continual daily intake in order to benefit in the long term, since polyphenols are fully metabolized within 24 hours of being taken into the body.

Here is a list of the top 5 spices that rank highest in terms of polyphenol content, making them the ones that you should try hardest to incorporate into your diet. ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorption capacity, which estimates the spice’s anti-oxidant ability. These values come from The Mediterranean Zone.

Oregano

Oregano, dried — 175,295 ORAC/100 grams

Oregano is synonymous with Italian foods, which make pizza and pasta sauces the obvious choice for how to use it. But oregano is also delicious stirred into scrambled eggs, vegetable soups, salad dressings, and sprinkled over sautéed vegetables.

Rosemary

Rosemary, dried — 165,280 ORAC/100 grams

Rosemary is delicious with oven-roasted root vegetables, as part of meat rubs and marinades, or sprinkled over fish. Use it to flavour lemonade, infuse olive oil, and make herbal tea.

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Thyme

Thyme, dried — 157,380 ORAC/100 grams

Another popular Mediterranean spice, thyme is extremely versatile and can be used in many of the same ways as oregano. Add it to salad dressings, soups, stews, oven roasts or braises, all egg-based dishes, garlic bread, pasta sauce, etc.

Turmeric

Turmeric, ground — 127,068 ORAC/100 grams

Turmeric is most commonly associated with Indian cooking, which is one of the best ways to use it. Make curries out of whatever ingredients you’ve got – vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, or lentils – and add a generous spoonful of turmeric, along with other curry spices such as cumin, ground coriander, ginger, and garlic. Add turmeric to soups, stews, and rice pilaf; it will add a vibrant yellow colour. It’s also good in mustard, relishes, chutneys, and pickles.

Sage

Sage, ground — 119,929 ORAC/100 grams

The taste of sage conjures up memories of Thanksgiving for many, but it’s a spice that should be enjoyed at other times of the year, too. Similar to rosemary, it’s excellent with roasted vegetables, meat, and fish. Add a pinch to pasta dishes, particularly cream sauces, and any soups or stews. Sage complements many winter vegetables, such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and rutabaga.

Katharine Martinko, TreeHugger.


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10 Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Authority Nutrition   December 6, 2014

Cinnamon is a highly delicious spice. It has been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.

Modern science has now confirmed what people have instinctively known for ages. Here are 10 health benefits of cinnamon that are supported by scientific research.

1. Cinnamon is High in a Substance With Powerful Medicinal Properties

Cinnamon is a spice that is made from the inner bark of trees called Cinnamomum.

It has been used as an ingredient throughout history, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt. It used to be rare and valuable, and was regarded as a gift fit for kings.

These days, cinnamon is cheap, available in every supermarket and found in all sorts of foods and recipes.

There are two main types of cinnamon:

  • Ceylon cinnamon: Also known as “true” cinnamon.
  • Cassia cinnamon: This is the more common variety today, what people generally refer to as “cinnamon.”

Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of the cinnamomum tree. The inner bark is then extracted and the woody parts removed from it.

When it dries, it forms strips that curl into rolls, called cinnamon sticks. The sticks can be ground to form cinnamon powder.

The distinct smell and flavor of cinnamon is due to the oily part, which is very high in a compound called cinnamaldehyde.

It is this compound that is responsible for most of cinnamon’s powerful effects on health and metabolism.

Bottom Line: Cinnamon is a popular spice. It is high in a substance called cinnamaldehyde, which is responsible for most of the health benefits.

2. Cinnamon is Loaded With Antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Cinnamon is loaded with powerful antioxidants, such as polyphenols.

In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon wound up as the clear winner, even outranking “superfoods” like garlic and oregano.

In fact, it is so powerful that cinnamon can be used as a natural food preservative.

Bottom Line: Cinnamon contains large amounts of highly potent polyphenol antioxidants.

3. Cinnamon Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation in the body is incredibly important. It helps the body fight infections and repair tissue damage.

However, inflammation can become a problem when it is chronic (long-term) and directed against the body’s own tissues.

Cinnamon may be useful in this regard, because some studies show that the antioxidants in it have potent anti-inflammatory activity.

Bottom Line: The antioxidants in cinnamon have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help lower the risk of disease.

4. Cinnamon May Cut the Risk of Heart Disease

Cinnamon has been linked with reduced risk of heart disease, the world’s most common cause of premature death.

In people with type 2 diabetes, 1 gram of cinnamon per day has beneficial effects on blood markers.

It reduces levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while HDL cholesterol remains stable.

More recently, a big review study concluded that a cinnamon dose of just 120 milligrams per day can have these effects. In this study, cinnamon also increased HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.

In animal studies, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

When combined, all these factors may drastically cut the risk of heart disease.

Bottom Line: Cinnamon can improve some key risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

5. Cinnamon Can Improve Sensitivity to The Hormone Insulin

Insulin is one of the key hormones that regulate metabolism and energy use.

It is also essential for the transport of blood sugar from the bloodstream and into cells.

The problem is that many people are resistant to the effects of insulin.

This condition, known as insulin resistance, is a hallmark of serious conditions like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Well, the good news is that cinnamon can dramatically reduce insulin resistance, helping this incredibly important hormone to do its job.

By helping insulin do its job, cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels, which brings us to the next point…

Bottom Line: Cinnamon has been shown to significantly increase sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

6. Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar Levels and Has a Powerful Anti-Diabetic Effect

Cinnamon is well known for its blood sugar lowering effects.

Apart from the beneficial effects on insulin resistance, cinnamon can lower blood sugar by several other mechanisms.

First, cinnamon has been shown to decrease the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal.

It does this by interfering with numerous digestive enzymes, which slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract.

Second, a compound in cinnamon can act on cells by mimicking insulin.

This greatly improves glucose uptake by cells, although it acts much slower than insulin itself.

Numerous human trials have confirmed the anti-diabetic effects of cinnamon, showing that it can lower fasting blood sugar levels by up to 10-29%.

The effective dose is typically 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day (around 0.5-2 teaspoons).

Bottom Line: Cinnamon has been shown to both reduce fasting blood sugar levels, having a potent anti-diabetic effect at 1 to 6 grams per day.

cinnamon

7. Cinnamon May Have Beneficial Effects on Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells.

Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are two of the most common types.

Two compounds found in cinnamon appear to inhibit the buildup of a protein called tau in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study looking at mice with Parkinson’s disease, cinnamon helped to protect neurons, normalize neurotransmitter levels and improve motor function.

These effects need to be studied further in humans.

Bottom Line: Cinnamon has been shown to lead to various improvements for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease in animal studies.

8. Cinnamon May Be Protective Against Cancer

Cancer is a serious disease, characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells.

Cinnamon has been widely studied for its potential use in cancer prevention and treatment.

Overall, the evidence is limited to test tube experiments and animal studies, which suggest that cinnamon extracts may protect against cancer.

It acts by reducing the growth of cancer cells and the formation of blood vessels in tumors, and appears to be toxic to cancer cells, causing cell death.

A study in mice with colon cancer revealed cinnamon to be a potent activator of detoxifying enzymes in the colon, protecting against further cancer growth.

These findings were supported by test tube experiments, which showed that cinnamon activates protective antioxidant responses in human colon cells.

Whether cinnamon has any effect in living, breathing humans needs to be confirmed in controlled trials.

Bottom Line: Animal studies and test tube experiments indicate that cinnamon may have protective effects against cancer.

9. Cinnamon Helps Fight Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Cinnamaldehyde, the main active component of cinnamon, may help fight various kinds of infection.

Cinnamon oil has been shown to effectively treat respiratory tract infections caused by fungi.

It can also inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella.

The antimicrobial effects of cinnamon may also help prevent tooth decay and reduce bad breath.

Bottom Line: Cinnamaldehyde has antifungal and antibacterial properties, which may reduce infections and help fight tooth decay and bad breath.

10. Cinnamon May Help Fight The HIV Virus

HIV is a virus that slowly breaks down the immune system, which can eventually lead to AIDS if untreated.

Cinnamon extracted from Cassia varieties is thought to help fight against HIV-1.

This is the most common strain of the HIV virus in humans.

A laboratory study looking at HIV infected cells found that cinnamon was the most effective treatment of all 69 medicinal plants studied.

Human trials are needed to confirm these effects.

Bottom Line: Test tube studies have shown that cinnamon can help fight HIV-1, the main type of HIV virus in humans.

It is Better to Use Ceylon (“True” Cinnamon)

Not all cinnamon is created equal.

The Cassia variety contains significant amounts of a compound called coumarin, which is believed to be harmful in large doses.

All cinnamon should have health benefits, but Cassia may cause problems in large doses due to the coumarin content.

Ceylon (“true” cinnamon) is much better in this regard, and studies show that it is much lower in coumarin than the Cassia variety .

Unfortunately, most cinnamon found in supermarkets is the cheaper Cassia variety.

You may be able to find Ceylon in some health food stores, and there is a good selection on Amazon.

Take Home Message

At the end of the day, cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthiest spices on the planet.

It can lower blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk factors, and has a plethora of other impressive health benefits.

Just make sure to get Ceylon cinnamon, or stick to small doses (no more than 0.5-2 teaspoons a day) if you’re using the Cassia variety.

Joe Leech, Authority Nutrition.


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The Holiday Spice that Boosts Mood, Fights Depression

Michelle Schoffro Cook    December 12, 2014

Who doesn’t love the taste of ground nutmeg over a holiday hot chocolate or latte? It’s not only the classic eggnog spice, it’s perfect in spice cookies and other holiday fare. While delicious holiday treats may be enough reason to enjoy nutmeg, research shows that it may help boost moods and help us deal with depression and sadness, which are also unfortunately common this time of year. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.

In a study published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, researchers found that nutmeg (myristica fragrans) boosted mood and showed comparable antidepressant activity to the drug imipramine—a drug used to treat depression and bed-wetting.

Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” reaction which occurs when we are severely stressed but there is a third reaction which is “freeze” during which we are so stressed that we have difficulty reacting at all. Like the term suggests our muscles can become rigid and we simply freeze up. In the study researchers found that herbal extracts of nutmeg had the ability to significantly reduce the amount of time spent in “freeze” mode and better cope with stress.

nutmeg

The scientists believe that nutmeg works as a natural antioxidant to reduce harmful free radicals in the body and restores the balance of hormones in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, in the same way the drug imipramine works, without the serious drug side-effects. Imipramine can cause dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, weight gain or loss, increased sweating, painful breasts, mood changes (including depression, which it is used to treat), irregular menstrual periods, muscle stiffness, restlessness, ringing in the ears, trouble urinating, leg swelling, and sexual problems (changes in desire and decreased sexual ability).

Conversely, nutmeg has shown to have beneficial side-effects in multiple studies. In one study it was shown to have anti-tumor properties. Additionally, the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that nutmeg inhibited 90% of rotaviruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and children worldwide.

There are many ways to get more nutmeg in your daily diet, including: on your favorite latte, added to almond or coconut milk as a delicious eggnog alternative, with cinnamon and added to apple cider, in your favorite sugar cookie or spice cookie recipe, or added to savory dishes like soup or stew. Nutmeg extract is also available in many health food stores. Use as directed on the package. Be sure to consult your physician prior to use.

Up to one-half teaspoon daily is a good dose. While there are a couple of self-reported cases of nutmeg toxicity at purported doses of two to three teaspoons daily, these cases have not endured the scrutiny of proper investigation. Until there is further investigation it is best to avoid high doses of two to three teaspoons of nutmeg daily. Although considering nutmeg’s strong taste I think even lovers of nutmeg would find it nearly impossible to overdose on the spice.