From sipping a pumpkin latte to grating ginger into a warm pot of chili, many time-honored cold-weather activities involve noshing on comfort foods, especially those flavored with delicious spices. But these spices aren’t just about pleasing your palate. Many of them boast wellness benefits, as well.
Here, seven winter spices health experts recommend adding to your diet:
Ginger is not only delicious and warming during crisp evenings, but it may help stabilize cholesterol levels, explains Emaline K. Brown, ND, a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University Clinic in San Diego, CA.
It’s also known as a go-to for gastrointestinal discomfort. “Many times these issues are a result of internal inflammation,” explains Claire Martin, RD, a nutritionist and cofounder of Being Healthfull from Oakland, CA. So, if you have an irritated esophagus, ginger can help soothe your throat.
Plus, if you’re traveling this holiday season to visit loved ones, it doesn’t hurt to reach for ginger, which can ease stomach discomfort related to plane or car travel, Dr. Brown notes.
It’s pretty much impossible to avoid this staple spice in the cooler months, as it’s used in a bevy of seasonal dishes—from pumpkin loaves to holiday cookies. But don’t worry about overdoing it: “Cinnamon may help balance out spikes in blood sugar from that extra slice of apple pie,” says Dr. Brown.
Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food points out that cinnamon is “a rich botanical source of polyphenolics [a.k.a health-boosting micronutrients] that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and has been shown to affect blood glucose and insulin signaling.” Credit goes to the spice’s ability to “increase insulin receptors, which take sugar into the cells for energy,” explains Serena Goldstein, ND, a naturopathic doctor in New York, NY. In other words, it lowers blood sugar, helping you to feel more stable.
Called the “Queen of spices” in India, cardamom is a smoky, flavorful spice that comes in two varieties—brown and green. Green cardamom is generally used in the winter in both sweet foods (like cakes) and savory foods (like curry). It’s recommended that you use the whole cardamom pod—versus the ground spice, since the ground spice loses a lot of flavor.
A study published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease found that cardamom played a beneficial role in promoting metabolic health, glucose intolerance, and oxidative stress.
Popularly used in South Asian cooking, as well as in trendy (and delicious!) Golden Milk recipes, turmeric has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb to promote healing from a host of illnesses. Martin describes it as “a powerful antioxidant that not only neutralizes free radicals (disease-causing compounds found in the environment, pollutants, and smoke) but also aids and boosts the body’s own enzymatic responses to free radicals.”
It’s also particularly helpful at keeping your brain firing on all cylinders, notes Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., author of the upcoming book, Heal Your Drained Brain (February 2018). “The effects of this miracle spice are quite evident in rural India, where fewer than one percent of seniors aged 65 and over have Alzheimer’s disease, compared to about 13 percent in the United States,” he says.
“Turmeric will make [your mind] feel better, too,” says Dow, “possibly increasing serotonin in the brain.” Additionally, it can address more day-to-day health concerns, as the main ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is a strong antioxidant.
“Rosemary is fragrant and its scent alone may stimulate the brain to improve alertness,” says Dr. Brown. You can also derive long-term benefits from the delicious herb, because the carnosic acid in rosemary may improve cognitive function, notes Dow. In fact, it could even be called a sort of immortality spice, since populations that eat the most of it also live the longest.
That said, too much rosemary can cause diarrhea or headaches, and it’s best avoided during pregnancy, warns Dr. Goldstein.
Related: Shop a whole range of spices.
One of the most important spices in Caribbean jerk seasoning, as well as in many holiday desserts, allspice has stomach-soothing and cold-battling powers. “Allspice may help ease the abdominal discomfort that so often accompanies holiday over-indulgence,” says Dr. Brown.
It’s also loaded with antioxidants!
If you’re feeling blue, sprinkling a bit of nutmeg onto your oatmeal might help turn your frown upside down. According to Dr. Brown, as well as an animal study published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, nutmeg may be able to boost mood and improve cognitive function. So, next time you want to lift your spirits—for instance, during the stress of the holidays—you’ll know where to turn.
Pin this infographic to your pantry to remember what’s what.