Christmas is coming! I always look forward to all the wonderful kitchen smells that are created as people prepare for the holiday season.
Certainly, many kitchens are busy this time of year making tasty treats for expected visitors. The recipes for these holiday staples often include a variety of traditional seasonings. As you’ll see below, several of these traditional seasonings also have unique health benefits. So, this holiday season, give your conscience a rest and enjoy.
Beginning with a traditional Christmas dinner’s main course, one staple is turkey stuffing. The distinctive flavour of stuffing is often achieved by adding sage, parsley and thyme to a bread base. Not only do these herbs and spices add their own unique flavour, they also bring some real health benefits.
Sage is a savory herb that is taken from a specific evergreen shrub, Salvia officinalis and has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It’s only after the Middle Ages that sage has been used specifically as a food seasoning.
The compounds in sage’s essential oils work as an anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal, and anti-septic agent. Sage is nutritious, too. It is a good source of the B-complex vitamins, as well as Vitamins A and C. Whether fresh or dried, sage contains the minerals potassium, zinc, calcium, iron, manganese, copper and magnesium. As a result, sage can be used to: help prevent cardiovascular disease, lung and mouth cancers; help maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, mucus membranes, organs and bones; and help control heart rate and blood pressure.
Parsley, another herb used in stuffing, is an excellent breath freshener because its chlorophyll and fluorine kill bacteria in the mouth. In addition, parsley is full of anti-oxidants, folates and dietary fiber. The vitamins in parsley: the B-complex vitamins, Vitamin A, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K prevent age-related macular degeneration while maintaining strong bones, strengthening the liver and fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Parsley is also a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
Another ingredient in stuffing, thyme, is made from leaves of the thymus plant, an herb native to Europe and Asia. Thyme is a good source of Vitamin K, iron, manganese, calcium, fiber and tryptophan. Thyme is especially known to support healthy breathing and is used to reduce coughs, bronchitis and chest congestion.
After the main course comes dessert. Many Christmas desserts contain other beneficial spices, specifically cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Cinnamon, a spice native to southeastern Asia, comes from the bark of Cinnamomum trees and is either used in the form of a dried stick or ground powder. Ground cinnamon is an ingredient of many Christmas cookies and pies. Not only is cinnamon a natural food preservative and antioxidant, it is also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium. Cinnamon has these distinctive health benefits: it lowers LDL cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels, reduces arthritis pain, and boosts brain function.
Cloves are native to Indonesia. The spice is the dried, unopened flower bud from an evergreen Myrtaceae tree. Its strong flavour is added to many Christmas dishes, like: gingerbread, Christmas cakes and apple desserts. Whole cloves are often inserted into baked hams and added to spiced apple cider.
Like sage, cloves contain anti-oxidants and have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiseptic properties. Cloves are an excellent source of manganese, a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamins K and C and omega-3 fatty acids, and a good source of calcium and magnesium. Cloves also have a significant amount of protein, iron, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.
Since cloves contain eugenol oil, which is a natural anesthetic, they can be chewed to relieve toothaches. Cloves are also effective at relieving digestive issues, such as: gas, loose stools, nausea and indigestion.
Nutmeg comes from the fruit of an evergreen tree that is native to the Spice Islands, but now grows in many tropical climates. Nutmeg often garnishes egg nog. Rich in many vital B-complex vitamins, nutmeg also contains Vitamin C, Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Nutmeg is a good source of these minerals: copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium. Potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids, helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
Manganese and copper are used by the body to support the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is necessary for red blood cell production.
Another common dessert spice is ginger, which comes from the root of the Zingiber officinale plant, which is native to southeastern Asia. As expected, ginger (combined with molasses) is necessary for gingerbread. Ginger contains potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium as well as some B-complex vitamins.
This Christmas, spice up your celebrations by choosing foods with these nutritious seasonings. Treasure your time with family and friends as you gather around the table for your holiday feast. And enjoy – in moderation.