Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Spices and Herbs (Part 3)

I enjoy cooking and baking, especially around the holidays. And this time of year is perfect for what I consider to be a “trifecta” of spices: cinnamon[1], ginger[2], and nutmeg. So, this week, we’ll take a closer look at nutmeg.

What is Nutmeg, Anyway?
Nutmeg trees actually produce two spices: nutmeg and mace. The trees, which can grow as tall as 66 feet, are native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia and are part of the “Spice Islands.” Nutmeg is from the seed kernel of the nutmeg fruit, which looks like an apricot, and mace comes from the red, lace-like covering that surrounds the nutmeg kernel. You can buy a nutmeg kernel, which is small, brown, and wrinkled, or you can buy nutmeg already ground.

What are the Health Benefits?
Nutmeg has been used in some interesting ways over the ages. For example, Henry VI apparently had the streets of Rome fumigated with nutmeg before his arrival. In the middle ages, men kept a nutmeg kernel in their armpit to attract admirers (that couldn’t have been comfortable!). Nutmeg has also been used to treat a number of conditions, including the following:

Nutmeg is also used in ayurvedic medicine for digestive problems, premature ejaculation, and urinary incontinence. Nutmeg oil is used in some medicines, dental products (it seems to help kill off bacteria in the mouth), and perfumes. As a supplement, nutmeg is available in capsule form, and it is also used in Chinese medicine.

Some words of warning: Ingesting too much nutmeg can be harmful. Nutmeg contains myristicin, also known as methoxy-safrole, a substance found in nutmeg oil. Myristicin has hallucinogenic properties, and may lead to nausea, vomiting, double vision, circulation problems, and psychoactive effects.

The amount of nutmeg that we typically use in cooking or baking is harmless. But ingesting more than two teaspoons of ground nutmeg (or roughly one nutmeg kernel) may cause some unpleasant side effects. Side effects often occur several hours after ingestion. Too much nutmeg can be fatal. Also, nutmeg may interact with antianxiety medications, such as diazepam (brand name Valium), ondansetron (Zofran), and buspirone (BuSpar).

Nutmeg and Diabetes
There isn’t a lot of evidence linking nutmeg to improved diabetes[3] control, at least at this point. However, in studies done in India with rats, nutmeg extract lowered glucose, stimulated beta cells[4] to release insulin[5], improved blood lipids, and controlled body weight. This data was presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in 2006. It seems too soon to tell if and how nutmeg might help people with diabetes.

How Do You Use Nutmeg?
If you like nutmeg, it’s best to buy a nutmeg kernel, along with a nutmeg grater (or a rasp-style grater), to grate your own fresh nutmeg. One whole nutmeg yields about 2–3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg. You can test the freshness of your nutmeg kernel by pricking it with a pin. If it’s fresh, a drop of oil should seep out.

As with most ground spices, ground nutmeg loses its flavor over time. Always store nutmeg (ground or whole) in a tightly closed container, away from light. The great thing about nutmeg is that it can be used in savory dishes, such as:

And, of course, in sweet foods, such as:

You might also try a sprinkle of nutmeg on your morning coffee or latte, on eggnog, or in mulled wine, for example. And if you have trouble sleeping, a mug of warm milk with a pinch of nutmeg may help you relax. Remember that a little pinch goes a long way! In general, though, it’s probably wise not to use nutmeg for purposes other than flavoring your food.

Endnotes:
  1. cinnamon: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Blog/Amy-Campbell/spice-it-up-boosting-your-health-with-spices-and-herbs-part-1/
  2. ginger: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Blog/Amy-Campbell/spice-it-up-boosting-your-health-with-spices-and-herbs-part-2/
  3. diabetes: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Diabetes-Definitions/diabetes/
  4. beta cells: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Diabetes-Definitions/beta_cells/
  5. insulin: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Diabetes-Definitions/insulin/

Source URL: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/spice-it-up-boosting-your-health-with-spices-and-herbs-part-3/


Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.