Spicing for Health During the Holidays

December 5, 2020

Holiday spices offer nutrients with therapeutic effects—and delicious fat-free flavors.

The holidays, especially this year, are a time to treat ourselves, our family, and our friends. Traditional holiday flavors, such as peppermint, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and cloves can add flavor and flare to holiday treats without adding extra fat, salt, or sugar. Holiday aromas can be incorporated into our environment, adding a calming and happy element.


Cinnamon was highly regarded in ancient Egypt as a flavoring, a cure for disease, and as an ingredient in perfumes. In medieval times, cinnamon was used to treat coughs, sore throats, arthritis, and to help preserve food. Cinnamon contains a very small amount of fiber, which helps to provide a feeling of fullness, or satiety. This means we can savor and appreciate smaller servings of foods and beverages flavored with cinnamon. Consider a sprinkle of cinnamon in your hot cocoa, coffee, tea, or hot milk.

Cinnamon is harvested from the bark of several different types of trees, including evergreens and laurels. Cinnamon is available whole or in powder form for use in food, or as an essential oil for household use.

There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. When shopping for cinnamon, if you have an option, select Ceylon, rather than cassia cinnamon.

Ceylon is scientifically known as Cinnamomum verum, or “true cinnamon.” Ceylon cinnamon has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than cassia.

Some studies have suggested that the compounds in cinnamon have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial properties.

In 2011, researchers concluded that diets rich in “antioxidant spices,” including cinnamon, may help reduce the body’s negative response to eating high-fat foods.

This could be helpful during the holidays, According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains about 6 calories and a very small amount of calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, several antioxidants and trace amounts of some B vitamins and vitamin K.

Cinnamon adds flavor to foods and beverages without adding fat or sodium. You may find that you add less sugar to foods when cinnamon is used. Consider adding a very small amount of cinnamon to your morning hot or cold cereal, to cooking grains, to hot beverages, or to sauces. To create a holiday atmosphere, boil several cinnamon sticks with some orange slices in a small amount of water. The aroma will create a soothing, mellow holiday atmosphere.


Ginger is a versatile flavoring. It can add familiar warmth or pungency to sweet and savory foods. Ginger is known for its ability to provide a sense of calm. To prevent holiday stress, sit back and sip a cup of hot ginger tea or a warm glass of milk flavored with ginger.

Ginger is a flowering plant that was first identified in Southeast Asia. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. The underground portion of the stem is the part used as a seasoning.

Ginger has a long history in traditional and alternative medicine. It’s been used to aid digestion, reduce nausea, and help alleviate cold and flu symptoms. A 2019 literature review of functional foods concluded that ginger had a very positive effect on obesity and weight loss.

Ginger is available for use in food as fresh, dried, powdered, or oil versions. Use pickled ginger to add excitement, without additional calories, fat, or sodium, to holiday meals. Add a small amount of powdered ginger to hot beverages, hot cereal, mashed sweet potatoes, and fruit salads. Complete a meal with a pinch of candied ginger. Candied ginger is extremely flavorful; a small amount provides almost instant satiety. Use a small amount of ginger oil combined with distilled water in a sprayer to freshen a room.


Warm, sweet, and aromatic, nutmeg is the quintessential holiday spice. Nutmeg adds a traditional note to holiday eggnog, pumpkin pie, and savory sauces. This exotic spice is known for its calming effect for the mind and body.

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