Holiday spices carry protective antioxidants

Food is a central part of holiday celebrations, and many traditional dishes can be loaded with a healthy secret: herbs and spices.

“For me, the most exciting part of the holidays is enjoying good food with special people,” Registered Dietician QulaMadkin said. “While celebrations will be different this year, we can still enjoy our family food traditions without feeling guilty.”

Many of the foods enjoyed during the holiday season include herbs and spices, which have known health benefits. Just like fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices contain antioxidants, or properties that may protect cells from damage.

Madkin breaks down three spices commonly used during the holidays and their benefits.

● Cinnamon is full of fiber and manganese. One tablespoon contains 4 grams of fiber.
Manganese is a mineral that appears to help regulate blood sugar.
● It has antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
● It lends a sweet taste to foods without adding sugar.
● Sage contains small amounts of zinc, magnesium, copper, and vitamins A, C and E.
● One teaspoon contains 10% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K.
● It has antimicrobial properties and supports oral health.
● Cloves are a good source of vitamins K and C.
● They contain manganese, which supports bone health.
● They have antibacterial properties.

Cloves are used to make ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Ground cloves will complement foods the same way cinnamon or ginger do. Try it in applesauce, oatmeal, muffins, cookies, stewed pears, whole-grain pancakes and sweet breads.

Madkin said herbs and spices have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, and science has proven their antioxidant properties. But more research is needed to identify what other specific health benefits herbs and spices may provide, such as possible prevention of certain chronic diseases.

“Some of that research is being done, but what we do understand completely right now is that spices can help flavor foods without adding fat, sugar or salt,” Madkin said. “Herbs and spices are a great way to enhance the flavor of foods while cutting calories.”

Many herbs and spices come in various forms, including dried, which is convenient and readily available. Madkin said processed herbs and spices have been proven to retain their antioxidant properties. However, keep in mind that some cooking methods, including grilling and frying, can reduce antioxidant properties. But microwaving, simmering or stewing can enhance these properties.

So enjoy all the flavors of the holidays; they pack a healthy boost.

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