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Nutmeg is a popular spice made from the seeds of Myristica fragrans, a tropical evergreen tree native to Indonesia. It can be found in whole-seed form but is most often sold as a ground spice. It has a warm, slightly nutty flavor and is often used in desserts and curries, as well as drinks like mulled wine and chai tea. Although it’s more commonly used for its flavor than its health benefits, nutmeg contains an impressive array of powerful compounds that may help prevent disease and promote your overall health.
This article reviews 8 science-backed health benefits of nutmeg.
- Contains powerful antioxidants
Though small in size, the seeds from which nutmeg is derived are rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants in your body. Antioxidants are compounds that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. These are molecules that have an unpaired electron, which makes them unstable and reactive.
When free radical levels become too high in your body, oxidative stress occurs. It’s associated with the onset and progression of many chronic conditions, such as certain cancers and heart and neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals, preventing cellular damage and keeping your free radical levels in check.
Nutmeg contains an abundance of antioxidants, including plant pigments like cyanidins, essential oils, such as phenylpropanoids and terpenes, and phenolic compounds, including protocatechuic, ferulic, and caffeic acids.
- Has anti-inflammatory properties
Chronic inflammation is linked to many adverse health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Nutmeg is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called monoterpenes, including sabinene, terpineol, and pinene. These may help reduce inflammation in your body and benefit those with inflammatory conditions.
What’s more, the wide array of antioxidants found in the spice, such as cyanidins and phenolic compounds, also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Nutmeg is thought to reduce inflammation by inhibiting enzymes that promote it. However, more studies are needed to investigate its anti-inflammatory effects in humans.
- May boost libido
Some animal studies show that nutmeg may enhance sex drive and performance. Researchers still aren’t sure exactly how the spice enhances libido. Some surmise these effects are due to its ability to stimulate the nervous system, along with its high content of powerful plant compounds. In traditional medicine, such as the Unani system of medicine used in South Asia, nutmeg is used to treat sexual disorders. However, research on its effects on sexual health in humans is lacking.
- Has antibacterial properties
Nutmeg has been shown to have antibacterial effects against potentially harmful strains of bacteria. Bacteria like Streptococcus mutans and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans can cause dental cavities and gum disease.
A test-tube study found that nutmeg extract demonstrated powerful antibacterial effects against these and other bacteria, including Porphyromonas gingivalis. These bacteria are known to cause cavities and gum inflammation.
Nutmeg has also been found to inhibit the growth of harmful strains of E. coli bacteria, such as O157, which can cause severe illness and even death in humans. While it’s clear that nutmeg has antibacterial properties, more human studies are needed to determine whether it can treat bacterial infections or prevent bacteria-related oral health issues in humans.
5–7. May benefit various health conditions
Although research is limited, studies suggest that nutmeg may have the following effects:
- May benefit heart health. Animal studies show that taking high-dose nutmeg supplements reduced heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels, though human research is lacking.
- Could boost mood. Rodent studies have found that nutmeg extract induced significant antidepressant effects in both mice and rats. Studies are needed to determine if nutmeg extract has the same effect in humans.
- May improve blood sugar control. A study in rats showed that treatment with high-dose nutmeg extract significantly reduced blood sugar levels and enhanced pancreatic function.
However, these health effects have only been tested in animals using high doses of nutmeg extract. Human studies are needed to determine whether high-dose supplements of the spice are safe and effective in humans.
- Is versatile and delicious
This popular spice has a variety of uses in the kitchen. You can use it alone or pair it with other spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. It has a warm, sweet flavor, which is why it’s commonly added to desserts, including pies, cakes, cookies, breads, fruit salads, and custards. It also works well in savory, meat-based dishes, such as pork chops and lamb curry.
Nutmeg can be sprinkled onto starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and pumpkin to create a deep, interesting flavor. What’s more, you can add it to warm or cold beverages, including apple cider, hot chocolate, chai tea, turmeric lattes, and smoothies.
If you’re using whole nutmeg, grate it with a microplane or grater with smaller holes. Freshly grated nutmeg is delicious on fresh fruit, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Though nutmeg is unlikely to cause harm when consumed in small quantities, taking it in high doses may cause adverse side effects. It contains the compounds myristicin and safrole. When ingested in large amounts, they can cause symptoms like hallucinations and loss of muscle coordination.
Interestingly, nutmeg is sometimes taken recreationally to induce hallucinations and cause a “high” feeling. It’s often mixed with other hallucinogenic drugs, which increases the risk of dangerous side effects.
It’s important to note that the toxic effects of this spice are linked to the ingestion of large amounts of nutmeg — not the small amounts typically used in the kitchen. To avoid these potentially harmful side effects, avoid consuming large amounts of nutmeg and do not use it as a recreational drug. (Source: Healthline.com)