Neither a nut nor tough to crack, nutmeg is the seed of the plant Myristica fragrans. It can be grated or powdered into a flavoring spice, blending well into comforting baked goodies and energizing beverages. But is it healthy? Rest assured.
The seed has two oils: an essential oil and nutmeg butter. The essential oil is responsible for nutmeg’s unique flavor and fragrance while also carrying health-promoting compounds. Nutmeg butter needs a lot more research on it.
Why It’s So Great
1. Supports Mental Well-Being
Your brain chemicals have the power to both soothe and stimulate you. So does nutmeg. Which is why it can be the perfect assistant your brain needs to fix your mood.
- The spice interacts with the nerve networks controlling mood (serotonergic system) and motivation (dopaminergic system). The interactions take place between nutmeg’s components and sites on cell surfaces designated to receive “happy” signals.
Though probably not the most effective herbal memory booster, nutmeg can also help your memory. It inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase that destroys the brain chemical acetylcholine.
- Acetylcholine is one of the tools your brain uses to encode new memories. It also increases blood flow to the brain, making sure there’s enough oxygen supply.
In effect, you have more acetylcholine with nutmeg around.
2. Helps with Digestion
Most of the spices and herbs you generously add to your meals spell out benefit for your digestive system – think of black pepper or cilantro. Nutmeg falls in the same category.
- The fiber-rich seed powder can help regularize your bowel movement, reducing episodes of constipation as well as diarrhea.
- It can fire up your appetite.
- It can also be a good preservative for your food since it can kill a heat-resistant bacteria commonly found in food, Bacillus cereus, that is responsible for most food-poisoning cases. The compound macelignan in nutmeg’s weapon of choice here.
3. Promotes Heart Health
Optimum cholesterol levels and protection from highly reactive molecules called free radicals are the prerequisites for heart health. Free radicals have an affinity for lipids, and they combine with excess LDL cholesterol to clog up arteries. There’s also the risk that they can cause the heart membrane, a lipid as well, to destabilize and rupture.
Heart-healthy foods and herbs have a double-pronged approach toward heart health: maintaining the right cholesterol balance and reducing free radicals.
- Reduces cholesterol: Not only does nutmeg’s vitamin B3 (niacin) reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol while increasing the “good” HDL cholesterol, it also makes sure lipids don’t collect in the heart – and the liver for that matter.
- Removes free radicals: Nutmeg has antioxidant compounds that can easily join hands with your innate antioxidants and scavenge free radicals. These compounds are lignans, pinene, 1,8-cineole, carvacrol, eugenol, and isoeugenol to name a few.
- Increases blood flow to the heart: The credit for this goes to nutmeg’s stash of potassium. Potassium helps relax blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely.
4. Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a necessary step taken by your immune system to deal with external (infection or injury) and internal threats (cell damage). But if it continues for too long, your entire body can bear the brunt. Nutmeg can help your body achieve the essential balance, thanks to its compounds myristicin, myrislignan, and quercetin.
- Restricts immune system crosstalk by inhibiting chemical messengers called cytokines.
- Suppresses inflammatory pathways by inhibiting the production of COX-2, a key enzyme involved in the early stages of inflammation.
- Controls pain perception by inhibiting substance P, a key nerve signaling chemical that modulates whether you feel pain and how much if you do.
5. Aids Sleep
Busy schedules and information overload often means delayed and disturbed sleep, sometimes even for the soundest sleeper among us. Nutmeg could assist your body in maintaining good sleep.
- Its compounds myristicin, safrole, and 4-terpineol reduce your urge to move around, possibly by modulating GABA levels. GABA is a signaling chemical that reduces the activity of nerves and makes you calmer.
- Its magnesium reserves encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
When it comes to nutmeg, less is always more. In fact, as is the case with most things, too much may be harmful. Never have more than 2–3 teaspoons (1–2 ounces) of the powder a day. Use it sparingly – up to a teaspoon a day is the sweet spot.
The most convenient way to have nutmeg regularly is to grate it over your beverages or mix the powder into your bakes and dishes whenever you can.