Gingerbread, cinnamon, anise and Co.
Christmas is considered unhealthy: the feast of the big bellies, after which we have to laboriously lose the fat we eat. This is not wrong, because an excess of fat and sugar drives body weight up; but it is also not entirely correct. Classic Christmas treats contain spices and substances that have a positive effect on health and even serve as a remedy.
For us, gingerbread is part of the Advent season. The classic gingerbreads, for example from Nuremberg, contain little fat if they are not covered with chocolate, plus anise, cardamom, cloves, coriander, allspice, ginger and cinnamon. These spices promote digestion, relieve cramps and stimulate the bile. The nuts contained in gingerbread provide fiber that saturates and contributes to a healthy intestinal balance.
Christmas spices - anise
With anise it is unclear whether it was first used as a medicinal plant or as a spice. The fruits taste sweet and children like them too. Anise is an all-round helper for complaints that are just below a level that needs medical treatment. The seeds have a diuretic effect, they relax, loosen mucus like cramps.
Anise relieves fatigue such as bronchitis, nausea and headache. It is also a proven home remedy for flatulence and stomach problems.
The fruits contain anethole, isoanethole, ansiketone, anisic acid, acetaldehyde, azulene, eugenol, coumarins, thymol, vitamin C and other substances that are important for the body.
Cinnamon is good for your health. It contains essential oils, moderate enjoyment of the spice, whether as a powder or stick, lowers the level of glucose, fats and LDL cholesterol in diabetics. Cinnamon has a positive effect on digestion and blood pressure.
Cardamom determines the typical gingerbread aroma with its ginger-like spice. Often without knowing it, it creates the "Christmas smell" of mulled wine and speculoos. The spice stimulates the stomach acid and makes heavy meals tolerable.
The substance gingerol helps against a feeling of nausea in the stomach and slows the nausea. The essential oil cineol works against the common cold, protects against bacteria and loosens mucus. It also promotes a pleasant smelling breath.
Cloves are a proven home remedy for bloating and flatulence, they promote appetite and soothe the stomach. They are therefore ideally suited to improve the digestion of high-fat Christmas food. The substance eugenol helps against toothache.
Carnations inhibit inflammation, disinfect and relieve cramps.
Here the dose makes the poison, because nutmeg in larger quantities has a toxic effect, from four grams in adults. In a small amount, however, nutmeg promotes blood circulation and soothes blood pressure, relieves muscle pain and stomach discomfort. It also helps you fall asleep.
The clove or Jamaican pepper is not taxonomically one of the horse family, but comes from tropical America. The myrtle plant got its peppery name because the pungent taste is reminiscent of pepper, but also of cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.
The clove pepper contains a lot of eugenol, and this substance provides the aroma. The indigenous people of Mexico added cocoa with allspice to the drink "Xocolatl", and this is where our chocolate is derived from.
Allspice works against stomach and intestinal complaints, and also soothes stress.
Star anise is found in Christmas cookies. It is made from a magnolia tree that grows in Japan, China and Vietnam. The essential oils loosen cramps and mucus and inhibit inflammation.
If you sometimes think of cough syrup while enjoying Christmas cookies, you are right. This often contains star anise.
It is no coincidence that cumin serves as a spice for heavy dishes such as cabbage, potatoes or roast goose. It stimulates the bile, relieves bloating and stomach cramps.
Vanilla has a permanent place in the Christmas bakery. It is the capsule fruit of an orchid genus, in contrast to artificial vanilla, the taste of which is only a poor copy.
Scientific studies have not provided clear evidence of the effects of vanilla. However, there are indications that orchid substances are effective against fungi and inflammation. The Aztecs took vanilla extract to improve their performance, while other Indians in America used the orchid to combat sleep disorders.
Mexican women rub vanilla to increase their sexual attractiveness. This could have a real core, because the scents of the pods resemble human pheronmon.
No spice is as difficult to produce in quantities as saffron; it is the inflorescences of tiny crocuses. 250,000 flowers make up about a pound. The yellow stamens give the saffron its typical color, but only the three red stamps of the female sex organ contain the spice.
The threads must be plucked from the flower immediately, then they are heated in a sieve over a small fire. The weight shrinks to about 20%.
In ancient times, saffron was not a spice, but an extremely expensive remedy.
It works against inflammation, pain and is antioxidative. Iranians and Arabs use saffron for menstrual and stomach pain. It should also help against colds, but people in the countries of origin prefer to use cheap alternatives.
Christmas chocolate is considered a fattening food par excellence. Obviously, excessive amounts of sugar are unhealthy. 100 grams of chocolate contains almost 500 calories, which is a quarter of the calories a medium-weight adult should consume every day.
However, dark chocolate contains flavonols, which are in cocoa. There is up to 90% cocoa in dark chocolate, at least 25% in milk chocolate, while white chocolate only contains cocoa butter. Flavonols are phytochemicals that lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more elastic. They are said to expand the coronary arteries, but this effect is too small to consider cocoa as a "medicine". If you have heart problems, ask your cardiologist about appropriate medicine.
The active ingredient theobromine in cocoa has a similar effect to caffeine. In addition, according to a British study, it relieves the urge to cough for colds, from an amount equal to six cups of cocoa.
Cocoa, not fat and sugar
The health bonus of chocolate is therefore cocoa. Cocoa also contains magnesium, iron and calcium, beta-carotene, as well as vitamins E, B1, B2 and niacin.
A Swiss study showed that chocolate with a high cocoa content blocks the release of stress hormones. So if you get chocolate under stress, you intuitively do the right thing - as long as it's not more than a few pieces a day.
Cocoa makes you happy
Cocoa, at least in raw form, supports the release of neurotransmitters that create feelings of happiness, endorphins and serotonin. These are exactly the substances that make us euphoric.
Better than spinach
Dark chocolate contains twice as much iron as spinach, about 7 milligrams per 100 grams. However, you can eat more than twice the amount of spinach without gaining weight.
No substitute for medicines
Caution: Anise, cinnamon or cloves have a positive effect on health, but they are not medicinal products, but spices. Essential oils and the active ingredients they contain evaporate during cooking. If you only season before the end of cooking, you can get many of the active ingredients. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Goethe University Frankfurt am Main: Medicinal Plant Garden - Anise for Cramps (accessed: September 17, 2019), uni-frankfurt.de
- Tina Sartorius, Andreas Peter, Nadja Schulz, u.a .: Cinnamon Extract Improves Insulin Sensitivity in the Brain and Lowers Liver Fat in Mouse Models of Obesity, Plos One, 2014, journals.plos.org
- Austria's public health portal: Cardamom (accessed: September 17, 2019), gesundheit.gv.at
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