6 Amazing Brain-Healthy Spices to use this Holiday
The holidays provide great opportunities: to connect with loved ones, to create lasting traditions, to welcome friends, and to spend some extra time in the kitchen.
But just because we may be cooking or baking (and eating) a little more than usual, we shouldn’t forget about the health of our brain. In fact, there are several seasonings often used this time of year that actually support proper brain health.
Nutrients contained within certain herbs and spices can help sharpen memory, improve sleep, balance blood sugar levels, and reduce stress. When used as part of a normal diet, common seasonings don’t cause side effects for most people. Enjoying them during the holidays as well as all year long, can therefore be a natural and delicious way to strengthen the brain.
So rather than indulge in everything you can get your hands on, try to spice up the holidays with these brain-healthy seasonings that both you and your brain will love!
Herbs and Spices
Various herbs, spices, and seasonings have been used by every culture for various reasons throughout history. Some have been used medicinally as a safe alternative to potentially harmful medications, while others have been used to add colour, flavour, and texture to dishes.
Most of these herbs and spices have found their way into our modern kitchens.
It’s likely that you have a few of these common spices stashed away in the recesses of your own kitchen. If so, why not make a point of using them this season and support your brain health at the same time?
6 Amazing Brain Healthy Spices
Various herbs and spices contain nutrients that can benefit the brain. And luckily, many of these are often found within, or can easily be added to, our holiday baking in cakes, cookies, savoury dishes, and breads.
So, let’s get cooking!
Cinnamon is a very common seasoning used all year long. It comes from the inner bark of a few trees found in Southeast Asia. It’s known for its aromatic qualities and is used as a flavouring additive in many different cuisines. But what can cinnamon do for us?
The greatest health benefit cinnamon has is its ability to help balance blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This benefits our body and brain alike. Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce inflammation, improve memory, increase attention span, and enhance cognitive processing. In lab rats, cinnamon’s protection against brain damage and cognitive impairment seems to stem from its ability to combat oxidative stress.
Applications: Sprinkle cinnamon on your breakfast cereal, oatmeal, morning smoothie, or bowl of fresh fruit. Bake with it in cakes, cookies, breads, and cinnamon buns (of course). It’s even great sprinkled on top of a late or a cup of coffee! My favourite way to use cinnamon? Generously use it to season sweet potato fries or any squash before baking.
Nutmeg comes from the seeds of a tropical evergreen tree native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. When freshly ground, nutmeg’s pungent aroma is unmistakable. But what can it do for us?
Nutmeg contains many nutrients (like manganese), antioxidants and disease-preventing phytochemicals. It can reduce oxidative stress and has the ability to boost mood, relieve pain, relax blood vessels, and reduce blood pressure. Some studies also suggest it can slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and promote brain tissue recovery following a stroke.
Applications: Nutmeg is often used in India for sweet dishes or savoury ones in the Middle East. It can also be used to season potatoes, eggs, meats, soups, sauces, and baked goods. Try adding it to casseroles, rice, grating it over whipped cream, or sprinkling it in warm milk to help you sleep better.
Ginger comes from the root of the ginger plant. It originated from Southeast Asia but is now available all over the world, and is valued for its medicinal properties. But what can ginger do for us?
Ginger has many health benefits. It is a digestive aid and pain reliever. It can reduce nausea, act as a blood thinner, control inflammation, and counteract the damaging effects of free-radicals. It has also been shown to protect brain cells from deterioration in patients with Alzheimer’s, and can improve working memory and attention.
Applications: Ginger can be used in almost any dish! Freshly grated, it can be added to salad dressings, marinades, stir-fries, and soups. Ground or powdered ginger can be added to smoothies, baked goods, or vegetables. Ginger can also be dried and chewed to aid digestion or whole pieces can be boiled to make a warming delicious tea.
Turmeric is a herbaceous plant native to southwest India that has been used as a medicinal herb and spice for thousands of years. The main compound in turmeric that provides its medicinal value is curcumin. But what can it do for us?
Turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit both overall health as well as brain health. It’s ability to boost brain health and ward off Alzheimer’s is likely due to ability to clear beta-amyloid proteins from the brain. It has also been shown to protect brain health by preventing the breakdown of nerve cells.
Applications: Turmeric is often used as a key ingredient in curry and often accompanies other spices like coriander and cumin. Try adding turmeric to stir-fries, soups, and veggies.
Cloves, made from the dried flower buds of an evergreen clove tree native to Indonesia, are known for their strong aromatic properties. But what can cloves do for us?
Cloves have powerful antioxidant properties to help ward off disease and combat free-radicals. They are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal. They can also help prevent blood clots.
Applications: Add cloves to baked goods, bean soups, cooked grains, cooked cereals, and chilli. They can also be added to applesauce or smoothies. Try adding a few to your next bouquet de garni for an extra special kick.
Cardamom is a relative of ginger and turmeric that grows wild in East India. Ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds to clean their teeth while Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume. But what can cardamom do for us?
Cardamom is an antibacterial and antioxidant spice, able to protect brain cells from free radical damage. It can help stabilize blood pressure and lower one’s risk of stroke by relaxing arteries and muscles of the heart.
Applications: Add cardamom to coffee, tea, or golden milk. Add it to soups or stews, or sprinkle it in doughs and batters to create extra-tasty baked goods. It’s also a delicious addition to smoothies and hot breakfast cereals.
Regardless of what you’re cooking up this holiday season, don’t forget about the health of your most valuable asset. Add some brain-healthy spices and seasonings to your plate to create more memorable and delicious creations!
As always, I’d like to know what you think. Drop me a line or comment below with your favourite application of these brain-healthy spices. I’d love to hear from you!