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Smart Ways to Season Holiday Dishes

By Sandy Schroeder

No holiday celebration would be complete without festive baked goods and savory side dishes. But this year’s crop of goodies may come with an additional gift of brain health if we pick the right seasonings. Harvard health researchers say traditional spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg have nutrients that have been shown to improve memory, cut stress, and help us sleep better.

This new research is sure to lead to more studies.  However, spices should never be taken in large quantities, and it’s always best to check with your doctor before making significant changes in your diet.

As you consider your holiday menu of breads, cakes, cookies and casseroles, here are some extra health benefits to consider. Recipe sites like Epicurious.com are filled with recipes for tempting fruit breads, vegetable casseroles, holiday cookies, breakfast rolls, and main dish stews that may all benefit from these healthy spices.

Cloves – Chili, baked pumpkin bread and smoothies all work with cloves. Try a spiced clove rub for baked chicken or a special cinnamon and clove cranberry sauce recipe. Cloves have been found to be natural anti-inflammatory agents and local anesthetics whichwork better than aspirin to help prevent blood clots.

Ginger - Use grated fresh ginger in salad dressing.  Cook with sweet potatoes, squash and green beans. Add it to pumpkin bread and smoothies, or make ginger spice cookies. Most sailors know ginger can be a natural way to fight seasickness. Researchers say it helps cut inflammation, relieve pain and fight dementia.  

Cinnamon – Sprinkle it over your morning bowl of oats, make cinnamon toast or add it to your coffee. Look for a new cinnamon bun recipe to serve at holiday brunches. Health dividends are better memory, more alertness, better thinking skills and less body inflammation. 

Nutmeg – Sprinkle it in warm milk to encourage better sleep. Use it in baking or egg recipes. Add it to eggnog pudding or a special shepherd’s pie. It has been found to help lower pain, reduce blood pressure and improve mood.

Cardamom -  Bake with cardamom or try it with hot oats or a morning smoothie. Add cardamom to fresh peach pie, raisin bread or fresh applesauce. Researchers say the antioxidant components help protect brain cells from free radical damage. They have found it helps lower blood pressure and reduce risk of stroke.

Keep looking for new ways to enjoy these healthy spices, and consider giving some to others as gifts. I just received a whole goodie box filled with spices like these. a perfect gift for anybody who loves to bake or cook. 

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