Holiday Spices that Pack a Health Punch

The holidays are upon us, which means ’tis the season for baking. However, if you only use your holiday spices for cakes and cookies, you’re missing out, says David Pletzer, MD, a family medicine doctor at Indiana University Health. “Doctoring up your food with spices can be a great way to add a lot of flavor and sneak in some health benefits,” he says. Here are five superstar holiday spices—and ideas on how to use them.

1. Cinnamon
This anti-inflammatory spice is a health-boosting powerhouse, with research showing it can do everything from help ward off colds and keep blood sugar in check to lowering “bad” cholesterol.

Spice up … your next bowl of oatmeal. Add a dash of cinnamon to your oats to add a rich flavor and help stave off mid-morning cravings.

2. Nutmeg
Having trouble sleeping? This healing spice has been shown to induce drowsiness. It’s also anti-inflammatory (which can reduce your risk of chronic disease), and can help regulate your digestive tract to ward off woes like indigestion and diarrhea.

Spice up … your next cup of herbal tea or warm milk to give your nightcap a health boost.

3. Peppermint
Turns out the iconic candy cane is much more than a holiday treat: Peppermint has been shown to quell an upset stomach, relieve headache pain, and soothe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Studies show it also enhances brain function, boosting concentration and memory.

Spice up … your breath. Simply sucking on a peppermint candy will not only freshen up your breath, but it may also give you a boost of alertness.

4. Cloves
This antioxidant-packed spice contains eugenol, which some research has shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory—which helps do everything from reduce aches and pains to help ward off chronic disease.

Spice up … your soup. Make your go-to veggie soup even more nutritious by including a teaspoon of this disease-fighting spice.

5. Ginger
There’s a good chance you’ve been turning to ginger (in the form of ginger ale) to ease stomachaches for as long as you can remember. That’s because this spice is proven to calm nausea. Researchers think it’s because ginger root contains pungent phenol compounds, such as gingerols and shogaols. What’s more, it may also help relieve arthritis pain and swelling, as well as migraine headaches.

Spice up … your salad dressing. Add a teaspoon of ginger (or more, depending on your taste preference) to your next homemade dressing to give your greens a zing.