More than 300 years ago, the Dutch city of New Amsterdam was flourishing on Manhattan Island.
Then the Dutch traded it away for nutmeg.
It sounds outrageous, but it’s true.
In the 17th century, one of the greatest sources of economic power was control of the spice trade – and nutmeg in particular.
Why was nutmeg so popular? Nutmeg was prized for its health benefits, including the belief that it could ward off the feared bubonic plague. Folks were so desperate for the spice, they often paid a 6,000% markup on the original cost.
The Dutch had become the main traders of nutmeg and worked desperately to have a monopoly on it. That’s why, in 1674, they gave up its control of Manhattan to the British in exchange for Run Island, part of the Banda Islands in Indonesia.
From today’s perspective, it would seem like a pretty lousy deal to lose what became New York City just for a tiny, isolated, sparsely populated island that was only useful for growing nutmeg.
But this trade gave the Dutch total control of the nutmeg industry for more than a century. That’s because at the time, nutmeg only grew on the Banda Islands, and the Dutch already controlled the remaining East Indies spice islands.
The Dutch monopoly ended when the British seized the Banda Islands in 1810, then transplanted nutmeg trees to their colonies of India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.
Nowadays, you can simply pop into the grocery store to get some nutmeg. And while we don’t have to worry about protecting ourselves from the Black Death, nutmeg has many health benefits.
It’s one of three spices you should add to your cooking repertoire to start improving your health today…
No. 1: Nutmeg
Chronic inflammation is one of the greatest threats to our health. Chronic inflammation stresses our immune system, our metabolic system, and more. It can also lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Nutmeg is one natural way to fight inflammation…
Nutmeg contains powerful antioxidants like polyphenols. As antioxidants, polyphenols neutralize free radicals, reducing inflammation. Regular consumption of polyphenols is also linked to digestive and brain health.
Nutmeg can also help you get a better night’s sleep. About a third of Americans experience chronic sleep deprivation. We’ve written before that not getting enough sleep leads to memory impairment, weight gain, and an increased risk of inflammation, which, as we mentioned, leads to diseases like diabetes and cancer. Nutmeg contains a chemical called trimyristin. Several studies have found that trimyristin can induce sleep and even help you sleep deeper.
But it’s easy to use too much nutmeg… And an overdose of nutmeg can cause hallucinations or even organ failure. And it only takes about two teaspoons of nutmeg to see toxic side effects, according to the Illinois Poison Center. That’s why nutmeg is best used in recipes that serve multiple people, but you can also sprinkle a small amount of nutmeg on your cereal or in tea.
No. 2: Turmeric
Researchers are still studying all the health benefits of this delicious spice. Turmeric comes from a root similar to ginger. It is used in food in many cultures, especially those that eat curry.
Turmeric gets its healing reputation from one chemical: curcumin. Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
We’ve seen promising studies on how curcumin preserves memory. Researchers believe this boost comes from its strong inflammation-fighting properties. This follows other research looking at how curcumin interacts with the body. It appears to interfere with specific molecules that control the inflammation process.
Curcumin also has some cancer-fighting abilities. For example, pancreatic cancer – one of the deadliest cancers – is especially resistant to chemotherapy. But researchers found a specific pathway in some pancreatic cancers that keeps the cells resistant to drugs. It turns out that curcumin directly interferes with that pathway. The chemical effectively shuts off the cancer cells’ resistance. Adding curcumin to chemotherapy made the treatments more effective.
If you want to add turmeric to your diet, you don’t just have to stick to curry, though. You can use it as a spice on salads, in soups, and on rice.
No. 3: Cinnamon
One of my favorite spices to add to your diet is cinnamon. A 2001 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition saw that a compound in the spice, methylhydroxychalcone (MHCP), mimicked insulin’s action. It helped process glucose and stabilized blood-sugar levels.
Several studies have backed up this research, showing that patients ingesting cinnamon saw lower levels of blood sugar. In fact, a 2013 review evaluated several studies and found that cinnamon significantly lowered the levels of blood sugar.
Similar to cinnamon, ginger also has blood-sugar-lowering properties.
A randomized study from the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine showed that diabetics who took pills filled with powdered ginger for three months had lower levels of blood sugar and lower insulin resistance than those who took placebos.
The reason spices might be key for your blood sugar is all in the enzymes. One study from the Journal of Translational Medicine showed that spices like ginger and cinnamon affected pancreatic enzymes. That means they worked with the pancreas – the organ that creates insulin – to lower blood-sugar spikes after meals.
We’ve even seen some studies that show health benefits resulting from less than a quarter of a teaspoon of cinnamon. So do what I do… I personally use about a teaspoon a day (although not all at once) on toast or in coffee.
What are some of your favorite – and healthiest – spices that you keep in the cupboard? Let us know… [email protected].
What We’re Reading…
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 5, 2021