Pumpkin Spice’s Health Benefits

December 1, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

I love this time of year. The signature tastes and scents of the season’s “pumpkin spice” are over the top delicious—and just as healthy. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice? In this gift-giving season, what could be more welcome than the gift of good health, wrapped in irresistible tastes and scents?

Pumpkin spice essential ingredients

Everyone’s got their own creations using the pumpkin spice blend. Bravo, chefs! Feel free, of course, to embellish, augment, and otherwise add your own touches. But around my holiday household, these five essentials must be present as the foundation for anything you prepare.

Health benefits of cinnamon

Cinnamon has a whole Santa’s sleigh full of healthy properties. It can help lower cholesterol, keep your arterial pathways clear of clumps and clots, and can even help manage blood sugar levels—a special gift for those with diabetes.

Add a wealth of health-protecting antioxidants to the list of attractions, and that unmistakably, endlessly inhalable scent—and you’ve got a shining holiday star that points the way to delicious good health.

Indeed, in a study that ranked the antioxidant powers of 26 different spices, cinnamon took the gold, even outscoring perennial “superfoods” garlic and oregano. On the antimicrobial front, it’s so powerful that it’s long been used to prevent food contamination and spoilage.

And finally, several lab and animal studies suggest that cinnamon extracts may even protect against cancer.

Health benefits of nutmeg

Nutmeg’s fiber content is only part of its gift to those in this season of generous indulging. As we all know, fiber keeps our digestive systems humming along smoothly. If your seasonal feasts are rich and abundant, that shot of fiber is just what this doctor orders.

Nutmeg also gives us a very healthy handful of B vitamins and minerals. And especially at this bountiful time of year, nutmeg is exactly what you need if you have trouble sleeping—from overeating, or the lingering excitement of joyful, crowded tables, or visions of sugarcane dancing in your head.

Nutmeg has also been shown to reduce degeneration of the brain’s neural pathways and cognitive functions—often the first steps toward dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. So it’s not just the unique taste and scents that nutmeg brings to your spice blend that can help you make this holiday season one that’s long remembered.

Health benefits of ginger

This lively, lovely, spicy powder is a natural, ages-old remedy for your upset stomach, whether your symptoms are nausea, heartburn, or any other traditional, seasonal, gastric distress.

Ginger can also help your digestive system absorb essential nutrients. It even provides several of them on its own, with its generous servings of iron, potassium, and zinc.

If you want an extra kick, use grated fresh ginger instead of or in addition to the powdered form. Be careful, though—ginger in the raw is pretty hot stuff—the freshest and spiciest can be almost hot-peppery. Before serving it as part of a treat for your hosts, family, or guests, try it in a favorite recipe—you might want to make two versions—one for those who like it hot, the other for those who prefer it more mellow. Alternately, and simpler, grate a bunch of raw ginger and offer it as a condiment on the side, to add for those who want it.

However it hits your table or your steaming hot mugs, ginger is nothing short of a winter wonderland of good health.

Health benefits of allspice

The name makes it sound like a spice blend unto itself, but allspice actually comes from a single fruit, a berry with origins in Indonesia. It’s dried and ground into a fine brown powder, with a taste similar to cinnamon and cloves, but different enough to augment them instead of imitating them.

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Allspice isn’t as well known, on the holiday list or all through the year, as the other ingredients on my list. But its centuries old health and healing properties are especially welcome as the holidays roll around.

Like the other ingredients, it’s long been appreciated as a digestive aid. And lest we forget that the season of giving is also the season of getting—as in getting a winter cold or the flu—please do note that allspice, with its gang of antioxidants, has a stellar reputation for fighting and treating infection, for relieving winter colds, chills, bronchitis, and even seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a kind of depression, usually mild, linked to shorter hours of healthy daylight.

Health benefits of cloves

Like so many of today’s everyday spices and herbs, cloves once commanded astronomical prices, caused wars over territories where they grew—and now sit affordably on supermarket shelves worldwide.

I doubt many people know what a gift they’re getting—besides unique deliciousness—when they include this robust old-timer in their pumpkin spice blend.

Cloves help you efficiently digest all of those seasonal feast treats by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes. So even if you’re overdoing it, cloves in the recipe will help prevent symptoms like flatulence, bloating, general gastric irritability, and nausea. If you need immediate relief anyway, you can add powdered cloves to honey in a tea that should calm the troubled gastric waters pretty promptly.

And for an added holiday bonus, cloves have been shown to protect against liver damage and cancer, to boost the immune system overall, and to help those with diabetes by producing insulin-like compounds when diabetes prevents or inhibits the body from making its own insulin. This, in turn, helps control blood sugar levels—always at risk when happy holiday indulgence pushes our natural controls beyond their limits.

Naughty holidays?

To put extra glitter and ribbons around the gifts of the season, you probably won’t be surprised to know that each of these pumpkin spice herbs has long been individually treasured for its aphrodisiac qualities—which some science has proven to be clinically true.

Happy holidays, indeed.

But more important, spare some moments for serious reflection while you’re counting your blessings this holiday season—your loving family, your dear friends, all bathed, I trust, in the generous glow of sharing your good fortune with those in need.

Please be sure to give plenty of love and thanks to your own remarkable body, which carried you through the year to these delicious holiday moments, and which nourishes, sustains, and delights you—even when you test its limits.

Be fully conscious of, and grateful for, the everyday miracles that are giftwrapped in your healthy body with every breath you take. It might sound New Age, touchy-feely to some, but I know firsthand that simply being mindful of how extraordinary your body is can improve your health markers instantly and over the longer term.

And remember—the season’s special spices are just as special every other day of the year.

Enjoy—and take good care.

References

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