Health Benefits of Winter Spices

By Joyelle Temming, registered dietitian at CHOC

As the days get shorter and colder, it’s always comforting to take in the fragrant smell of winter spices.  Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and anise have aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. It may surprise you that they have many health benefits too.

The winter season is synonymous with the common cold, so it’s a wonderful time to add spices to your diet that contain antibacterial properties and antioxidants that can help keep your immune system healthy! While spices should not be a substitute for medical treatment or prescription medicine under the supervision of a medical provider, incorporating spices into your daily cooking may help cut back on excessive sugar and salt as well as boost your overall well-being. All spices are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are a healthier alternative to sugar and salt to add flavor to your food.

Here are five common winter spices and their surprising health benefits:

  1. Cinnamon
  • Lowers fasting blood sugar
  • Provides relief from arthritis
  • Contains polyphenols that fight bacteria and boost your immune system
  • Lowers bad cholesterol
  • Contains antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress that can contribute to the development of chronic disease
  • Contains four grams of fiber per one tablespoon of cinnamon
  1. Cloves
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Clears the respiratory passages
  • Improves digestion
  • Contains antioxidants, particularly a compound called eugenol that has been shown to have anti-cancer properties
  • Contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as manganese, vitamin K and vitamin C
  • Strengthens immune system, improves blood clotting, and maintains brain function
  1. Nutmeg
  • Nutmeg oil is a proven pain reliever
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Relieves insomnia and depression
  • Improves cholesterol levels and regulates blood pressure levels
  • Contains antibacterial properties with the potential to inhibit activity of bacteria that causes periodontitis and helps prevent tooth decay
  1. Ginger
  • Suppresses nausea
  • Reduces bloating, gas, and constipation
  • Minimizes menstrual cramps
  • Contains enzymes and antioxidants that help fight bacterial infections and boost the immune system
  • Fights inflammation
  • Aids weight loss and has promise in decreasing body fat by preventing overeating, improving energy levels and stopping fat generation in the body
  1. Anise
  • Contains antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C
  • Excellent source of many essential B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin; contains minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium
  • Has antifungal properties specific to candida, a naturally occurring fungus found in the throat, mouth, and intestines
  • Best natural source of Shikimic acid, which is used in the anti-flu medication Tamiflu
  • May have mild sedative properties for sleep

These spices can be a great addition to recipes during the winter when fresh produce is harder to find. To maximize health benefits, keep in mind that fresh spices are recommended over dried spices.

Try these seasonal recipes with your family to incorporate winter spices into your diet:

Chai Concentrate

4 ½ cups water

1 stick cinnamon

Fresh ginger, smashed (about 5 thin slices)

7 whole cardamom pods, smashed

2 whole star anise pods

10 whole cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon orange zest

10 teaspoons loose tea or 10 tea bags

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla


Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat.  Add all of the ingredients and let steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain out the bags and spices.  Mix equal parts concentrate to milk. Will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

1 sweet potato

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup honey

1 (6 ounce) container vanilla yogurt

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners; set aside. Prick sweet potato several times with a fork and place onto a baking sheet.
  2. Bake the sweet potato in the preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Stir in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, honey, yogurt, and mashed sweet potato, just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Blend together the oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.
  6. Bake muffins in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Source: All Recipes

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