At Christmas, all the shops on Oxford High Street seem to be selling food and drinks with more flavourings than usual – gingerbread latte’s, cinnamon hot chocolate – but not all of them are bad for you. Our personal trainer Pete has looked at the health benefits of some of the top Christmas flavours, so you can eat them to your heart’s content!
Ok, so here is some good news about cinnamon… as well as being delicious, cinnamon actually has a number of potential health benefits. One of the major properties of cinnamon is that it can help to reduce blood sugar levels, with some studies showing up to a 29% reduction in patients with type 2 diabetes (Kirkham et. al. 2009). As well as this it has also been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and lipid lowering properties. Why not sprinkle some on your next coffee?
For those of you who don’t know what turmeric is, it’s the spice that makes curry yellow. Along with numerous other compounds, turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and this is where the good stuff comes from. Curcumin is hailed as an incredible antioxidant (Menon & Sudheer 2007) and a highly potent anti-inflammatory (Jurenka 2009). With lots of chronic western diseases there are often elements of inflammation that play a role, so it is therefore no wonder that curcumin has been linked to aiding numerous different conditions. There have also been several studies that indicate it can also help brain function along with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Use some turmeric in your post-Christmas Turkey curry to feel the benefits!
Now in cayenne pepper, the jazzy ingredient in this is known as capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown in different studies to increase fat burning and to suppress appetite. Interestingly, there are different effects depending on tolerance levels, those people who did not regularly eat peppers saw a reduced appetite and an increase in fat burning by adding red peppers to meals. However, people who were accustomed to spicy food saw no significant effects. There have also been some studies on animals that have shown to help with some forms of cancer (Jang et. al. 1989; Mori et. al. 2006) but his has not been proven in humans yet so more research is needed before we can truly believe that. Perfect for spicing up your meat or vege over the Christmas period.
Unfortunately, I am not a fan of a ginger, but for those of you who are, let me tell you about all the good things ginger can do for you. The biggest is the effect it can have on nausea. Whether this is caused by sea sickness, morning sickness or chemotherapy, studies have shown that just 1 gram or more of ginger can successfully treat the problem (Ernst & Pittler, 2000). As well as aiding with nausea, ginger also appears to help with pain management and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties (Black et. al. 2010). Ginger can be found everywhere over the festive period!
Finally, we have garlic, and luckily the benefits of garlic are much better than it’s smell. Interestingly both the smell and most of the health benefits both come from the same compound which is called allicin. Garlic can be used primarily for preventing the common cold (Josling, 2001). It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol and/or LDL cholesterol for those who have high cholesterol (Silagy & Neil, 1994) and to lower blood pressure for individuals with high blood pressure (Ashraf et. al. 2013). Why not put some garlic in with your roast potatoes?
So there we go – plenty of healthy festive seasonings to inject some spice into your Christmas recipes and give your health a boost too!