One of the best parts of the fall and holiday season are the familiar flavors and spices that define seasonal foods and treats. Whether it’s in eggnog, a pumpkin spice latte, or a warm slice of apple pie, the comforting smell and flavor of nutmeg will inspire you to curl up on the couch with one of these treats. But in addition to packing delicious flavor, nutmeg also provides various health benefits.
“Nutmeg is a quintessential spice for winter because the flavor is warm, a little nutty, with a hint of sweetness,” says Brigitte Zeitlin RD, a registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City. Though you'll probably only add a smidge of this spice to baked goods or drinks, Zeitlin and other dietitians say its health benefits are nothing to sneeze at.
Nutmeg comes from the tropical Myristicaceae tree, which is native to Indonesia's Moluccas (AKA, the Spice Islands). The spice is made from nutmeg seeds, and is typically cultivated in these islands, as well as in the West Indies. Although it can be purchased as whole seeds, nutmeg is typically sold ground, similar to cinnamon.
While you might associate nutmeg with your favorite holiday treats, here are just a few of the health benefits this spice has to offer.
Nutmeg Contains Key Micronutrients
Nutmeg is a source of micronutrients like iron, magnesium, and calcium. “These nutrients can come with added benefits, such as improvement in mood disorders from the increase in magnesium, as well as improvement in diabetes symptoms due to the healthy fat and fiber intake,” says Gabrielle Tafur, RD, an Orlando, Florida-based dietitian.
Nutmeg Is A Source Of Antioxidants
“Nutmeg is also rich in antioxidants, which can be especially important for boosting immunity during the fall months and flu season, as well as in preventing other chronic diseases,” Tafur says. Antioxidants are compounds that protect your cells from free radicals, which are molecules associated with heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
Nutmeg May Also Decrease Inflammation & Boost Libido, Though Research is Limited
One 2016 review of studies published in the journal Phytochemistry Reviews showed that nutmeg may provide anti-inflammatory benefits for people living with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Similarly, a 2005 study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggested that consuming nutmeg may improve sex drive. These studies were performed in animals, though, so ultimately, more research is needed before you can say the same for humans.
How To Flavor Your Holiday Season With Nutmeg
In addition to baking with nutmeg in recipes for cookies and banana bread, it can also be used to flavor up meats and vegetables, or to enhance fall-themed dishes like pumpkin or butternut squash soups, Zeitlin says. She is a fan of adding it to matcha lattes and tea, as well as to adult holiday beverages like mulled wine or hot toddies. Tafur also recommends sprinkling a bit in coffee if you want to add some natural flavor. (Although most people consume very small amounts of nutmeg when incorporating it into recipes, it’s important to note that it can have hallucinogenic effects when consumed in large amounts, Tafur says.)
However you choose to enjoy it, you can rest assured that you’re doing your body good by adding a sprinkle of nutmeg to your food or drink.
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Ahmad S (2005) An experimental study of sexual function improving effect of Myristica fragrans Houtt. (nutmeg), BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1187868/.
Beckerman B, Persaud H. (2019) Nutmeg overdose: Spice not so nice. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0965229919305540?via%3Dihub.
Zhang C. (2015). Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Compounds in Nutmeg (Myristicafragrans) Pericarp as Determined by in vitro Assays, Natural Product Communications, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26434127/.Bonnefoy M. (2002). [Antioxidants to slow aging, facts and perspectives]. La Presse Médicale, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12192730/Beydoun MA. (2015). Dietary antioxidant intake and its association with cognitive function in an ethnically diverse sample of US adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4597309/.
Gabrielle Tafur, RD, an Orlando, Florida-based dietitian
Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City