Adding these flavorful fall spices to your diet can boost your health

We have officially entered the time of year in which Halloween decorating is in full swing, football is back, and the weather is cooling down to where we can (sometimes) wear sweaters. It’s pumpkin spice and chai latte season! In addition to a warm and fuzzy taste, many of these fall flavors serve as functional foods with strong antioxidant properties.

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics defines functional foods as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis and at effective levels”. Spices and seasonings are prime examples of functional foods, as they are largely used to enhance the physical and textural characteristics of foods being very beneficial to human health. Let’s break it down using all of the phytonutrients that make up a fall fan favorite, chai: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves.

Cinnamon: In addition to containing vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium, cinnamon is rich in diverse bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties. Cinnamon touts the ability to prevent oxidation, which we know causes inflammation, and serves as an antibiotic. Cinnamon has been studied for its ability to successfully enhance blood sugar metabolism and influence pathways that contribute to cancer development. When shopping for a cinnamon seasoning, I recommend looking for Ceylon cinnamon rather than cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon contains coumarin, which can contribute to liver damage and is especially risky for pregnant women. Add 1-2 teaspoons, or a “dash” of Ceylon cinnamon, to your baked goods, oatmeal or cider.

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Ginger: Ginger has been valued as a spice and medicine for the last 2,500 years. The spice is associated with many “anti” effects and has historically been used for a wide range of ailments such as arthritis, sore throat, menstrual cramp relief, motion sickness, hypertension, fever and dementia. Spicy with a bitter taste, as little as 1 gram of ginger per day has been shown to decrease inflammatory biomarkers in blood. I’m sure many of you are familiar with turmeric, or red ginger. Turmeric has been associated with decreased blood pressure, relief from stomach upset and common cold. For shopping and cooking purposes, ground ginger has a more robust nutrient profile than raw ginger. Try adding 1 tablespoon to your next cup of tea.

Cardamom: Known as the “Queen of Spices”, cardamom is traditionally used as a flavoring and medicinal agent. India is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of cardamom, incorporating the spice into many sweets. Cardamom has shown to be effective when healing digestive problems, asthma, bronchitis and bad breath. In clinical trials, 3 grams of green cardamom has shown to have a potential protective effect on HDL-cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol. Cardamom has a particularly high antioxidant capacity when consumed in yogurt. Try adding 3 grams, or a little more than 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom to your Greek yogurt for additional flavor and anti-inflammatory kick.

Cloves: Cloves are often used in traditional African medicine to have a curative effect on gastrointestinal conditions. High in flavonoids and phenols, just 1/2 teaspoon of ground clove can contain more antioxidants than 1/2 cup of blueberries.

“Just as you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, don’t get stuck on using just garlic, onion, salt and pepper for flavoring. There is a whole world of flavor out there to discover,” says Shana Tatum, a Houston-based integrative and functional registered dietitian. She uses whole systems biology with modifiable lifestyle factors to help patients find the right food plans for optimal health and well-being.

Here, she shares her recipe for “Smoothie with Spice,” which will help you incorporate seasonal antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavors, and taste fall.

Emma Willingham is a registered dietitian who practices in an outpatient hospital clinic and through her private practice, Fuel with Emma. Willingham specializes in sports-performance nutrition, weight management and nutrition counseling, and aims to promote a resilient relationship between food, mind and body. You can find her on social media at @fuelwithemma.

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