by Sabra Leomo, RD
Is there anything quite so comforting as the smells and flavors that come with holiday baking and cooking? Herbs and spices play a major role in fragrant and delicious holiday food. Beyond the smells and flavors, herbs and spices provide amazing health benefits that make them stars of the holiday season.
Boasting a higher level of antioxidant and antimicrobial properties than many other foods, herbs and spices, cloves deserve a special mention in holiday cooking. Antioxidants fight cell damage that can lead to cancer and other chronic diseases. Researchers found that compared to other spices, cloves have the highest antioxidant capacity.
Fresh apples baked with cloves offer a warm and comforting dish packed with antioxidants.
One of the most popular holiday spices, cinnamon has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Cinnamon has been studied for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties. The effects on lowering blood-glucose levels have been one of the most studied aspects of cinnamon. An analysis of 10 studies found that cinnamon decreased levels of fasting glucose along with improving lipid profiles. The effects on blood glucose could benefit people managing type 2 diabetes. Research is still in the early stages and more research is needed to better understand the antidiabetic properties of cinnamon. Adding one-half to one teaspoon of cinnamon into a healthy diet that includes regular exercise is generally considered safe.
The confirmed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cinnamon are another reason to love this holiday spice. Stir cinnamon into nut butters like almond butter for a tasty treat. Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal and baked sweet potato for a heart-healthy treat.
This spice is known to contain antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Nutmeg is also a good source of manganese, which is important for metabolism, bone development, and skin cells.
The pleasant and sweet smell of freshly grated nutmeg is something to experience this holiday season. Look for whole nutmeg in the spice section and use a microplane to grate just the amount you need for recipes. Store whole nutmeg in an airtight container away from heat and light. When stored properly whole nutmeg has an indefinite shelf life.
Add some nutmeg to your coffee grounds when brewing for a cozy and fragrant drink. Nutmeg also pairs well with winter squash and dark leafy greens.
This herb is often an ingredient in traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. Beyond making savory stuffing, sage may boast health benefits from antioxidant activity to improving alertness, memory and attention in healthy adults.
Try adding sage to roasted vegetables like butternut squash for a delicious and memory-boosting meal.
Often our pantry becomes a time capsule for herbs and spices. While searching through bottles you might find paprika from 2001 hanging out in a dark back corner. For maximum potency use by the “best-by” date on the bottles and store them in a cool, dark place away from the heat of the stove.
Herbs and spices provide health benefits in addition to adding flavor to holiday foods. Plus, herbs and spices take flavor up a notch and provide satisfaction without additional calories and fat. These benefits are all reasons to spice up your holiday cooking.
 “Antioxidant activity of essential oils of five spice plants widely used in a Mediterranean diet”. Wiley Online Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ffj.1951/full. Accessed 17 October 2017.
“Can Taking Cinnamon Supplements Lower Your Blood Sugar? Some studies find benefits for people with diabetes”. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 19 October 2017. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2016/10/can-taking-cinnamon-lower-your-blood-sugar/
 “Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Property of Sage (Salvia) to Prevent and Cure Illnesses such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Dementia, Lupus, Autism, Heart Disease, and Cancer”. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003706/. Accessed 17 October 2017.