Get to know how some of your favorite winter spices are protecting your health during the colder seasons.

Flavorful and disease-fighting? Get to know how some of your favorite winter spices are protecting your health during the colder seasons.


You probably don’t think about it when you reach for a pinch of pepper, or a teaspoon of cinnamon, but the spices in your kitchen pantry were once rare and treasured for their medicinal properties.

Today, it’s mostly chefs and foodies who treasure spices as a secret ingredient or a delicious way to enhance a recipe without adding extra salt, sugar, or fats.  However, it seems that ancient medicine may have had it right, as scientists are rediscovering the powers of some of our favorite traditional spices.  In fact, adding an extra pinch or teaspoon of most spices provides a healthy dose of disease-fighting antioxidants and a boost to the immune system.

Stars like oregano, rosemary and turmeric usually steal the spotlight because of their high antioxidant levels, and potential cancer-fighting properties.  Both oregano and turmeric have been shown in lab studies to kill certain cancer cells, and rosemary may be able to help reduce carcinogens that form on meat when it’s grilled.  But there are also a few “winter” spices that shouldn’t be overlooked because they too can enhance the immune system and maybe even help ease your way through cold and flu season. Here are 5 to consider:

1. Cloves

While antioxidants may not prevent colds or flu, they will help strengthen the immune system so you can recover more quickly.  Antioxidants are usually associated with foods like berries or leafy greens, but one spice in particular gives you a much bigger bang for the buck.

One–half teaspoon of clove has as much antioxidant power as a half cup of blueberries, and researchers in Spain have ranked this spice as the best natural antioxidant.  The spicy fragrance of clove complements winter fruits like apples, pears or pumpkin, and can be used along with cinnamon or nutmeg in oatmeal, muffins or sweet breads.

2. Ginger

Ginger has been used throughout history to treat everything from nausea and motion sickness, to pain and inflammation, and it definitely has its place during cold and flu season.  A cup of spicy ginger tea can help ease symptoms of colds, respiratory infections, and fever by relieving nasal congestion and stimulating circulation, which helps you feel warmer.  

As a bonus, its active compound, gingerol, has antimicrobial properties, that may help nip any bacteria in the bud.  Ginger is traditionally used in Asian cooking and marinades, but dried powdered ginger also adds a spicy zing to fruit salads and roasted carrots or sweet potatoes, as well as anything with pumpkin.

3. Peppermint

For indigestion or stomach-related ailments, peppermint may do the trick. Rather than used as a dried cooking spice, peppermint leaves can be brewed as a tea, or it can be taken as an enteric-coated capsule.  Because it helps to relax muscles in the stomach, it can soothe an upset stomach or aid digestion. Peppermint’s active compound is menthol oil, which is also an effective decongestant and expectorant, and helpful for colds and cough.

4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is also rich with antioxidants, and its active compound cinnamaldehyde has antimicrobial properties that can fight bacteria in the mouth.  Cinnamon has also been making the news recently for its benefits for blood sugar.  A teaspoon added to your morning oatmeal may help prevent a spike in your after-breakfast blood sugar, but don’t limit it to breakfast. Try a sprinkle on your yogurt, fruit salad, or even in your smoothie.

Spice is nice, isn’t it?

Adapted from the original article.

Anne Danahy, MS, RD is a Scottsdale-AZ-based registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant specializing in women’s health and healthy aging. Anne is passionate about teaching people how to make the science of nutrition more delicious on their plates. Visit her at Craving Something Healthy.