This is one of the main ingredients that differentiate gingerbread from just bread. Ginger is one of the healthiest spices on the planet. It gets its name from the compound gingerol, a substance that has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Moreover, ginger has a long history of treating nausea, vomiting, and morning sickness, and is more effective than anti-nausea medication.
Ginger is a spice I recommend to my patients who work out, because it can help reduce muscle pain and soreness after exercise, and can even decrease joint pain (osteoarthritis.) Ginger is also great for digestive health: It stimulates saliva and bile production and suppresses gastric contractions as food and fluids move through the GI tract. Evidence even suggests that ginger could help prevent colon cancer.
This is another spice commonly used in the making of gingerbread. One teaspoon, or two grams, of ground cloves, contains 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of manganese, an essential mineral for maintaining brain function and building strong bones. Cloves are also high in antioxidants, with studies suggesting that the compounds in cloves can reduce the growth of certain cancers. Studies show that cloves may promote oral health because their antimicrobial properties kill bacteria in the mouth.
Eggs are a necessary component in the baking of gingerbread and are a wonderful source of protein and healthy fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. One egg contains six grams of high-quality protein, as well as all nine essential amino acids, and is one of the few foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D. In addition, eggs can improve eye health due to their high carotenoid content, specifically the presence of nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. But not all eggs are created equal. Be sure and purchase only pasture-raised, USDA-certified organic eggs.
Yet another spice in gingerbread, nutmeg contains many healthful compounds that may help prevent disease and promote overall health, including a whole bunch of antioxidants. Nutmeg is also rich in monoterpenes, anti-inflammatory compounds and contains an antidepressant-like compound called n-hexane, which could help boost your mood.
A common sweetener used in gingerbread, honey offers natural antibacterial and antiviral properties and is chock-full of many health-enhancing nutrients and antioxidants. Unlike white processed sugar, honey is good for your teeth. Studies have shown that manuka honey attacks harmful oral bacteria associated with plaque formation and tooth decay.
Be sure and opt for a high-quality brand of raw honey and not one that’s mixed with any syrup. Check the ingredients, and look for the only ingredient listed as being honey. One good way to do this is to look for honey that has a foggy appearance, a natural effect of bee pollen.
Another gingerbread sweetener is molasses. It’s filled with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, and some variations are even diabetic-friendly. If you have diabetes, research shows that blackstrap molasses can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This type of molasses is high in the mineral chromium, which increases glucose tolerance.
Moreover, blackstrap molasses can help women with their reproductive health and it’s been successfully used to help females suffering from irregular menstruation, cramps, and PMS. Blackstrap molasses is sometimes referred to as pregnancy tea because of its high levels of iron, folate, and other minerals that are essential for the growth and development of a baby.
Another spice in the making of gingerbread is cinnamon, which has incredibly potent antioxidant properties. In fact, the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry lists cinnamon at the top when comparing the antioxidant activity of 26 spices. Similar to molasses, cinnamon may benefit those with diabetes, too. Research shows an ingredient in cinnamon called ceylon may reduce blood sugar spikes, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve metabolic markers associated with insulin resistance.
Peppermint can be found in several candies used to decorate gingerbread houses, and while candied versions are far from healthy, peppermint itself can be. Peppermint oil contains a substantial number of antioxidants. There has been a plethora of research on the health benefits of peppermint, including helping increase athletic performance. It’s also been shown to be a natural remedy for migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, upper respiratory infections, fatigue, and sinusitis.
The candied version isn’t so great because they add fattening sugar to peppermint oil, which lessens its health benefits. However, if you just smell the peppermint candy, it may help you lose weight: Research shows that sniffing peppermint every couple of hours throughout the day can help you to reduce the amount of food you eat by a whopping 2,800 calories per week.
9) Hershey’s Kisses
While these particular gingerbread house decorations can certainly be high in sugar, if you go for the dark chocolate kisses, they actually have some health benefits. They offer naturally occurring antioxidants called cocoa flavanols, which can protect the cells of the heart and brain. In fact, a study from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that dark chocolate protects the brain from age-related cognitive decline. In addition, dark chocolate has the capacity to reduce appetite and help aid in weight loss.
Now, while dark chocolate might have some benefits, before you downing a box of Hershey’s Kisses to lose weight, keep in mind that they add fattening ingredients, which negate the beneficial weight-reducing cocoa.
10) Brown Sugar
Another sweetener used in gingerbread, brown sugar is essentially white sugar with some molasses added back in. As I shared above, molasses has some solid benefits. One small benefit brown sugar has over white sugar is that it contains more water, which slightly lessens its caloric value by weight. This is still sugar, though, so moderation is key.
So, those were some of the healthier ingredients in gingerbread houses — mostly all in the gingerbread itself — which means we can now move on to the super unhealthy ingredients which consist mainly of the candied decorations.
COUNTING DOWN THE UNHEALTHIEST INGREDIENTS IN GINGERBREAD HOUSES
Growing up as a kid, marshmallows were my go-to. I ate them plain, in my Lucky Charms cereal, in Rice Krispies Treats, and cooked over a hot fire at camp. After I earned a degree as a holistic physician and nutritionist, I learned that there are actually some health benefits to marshmallows: The root of the marshmallow is a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to be a natural remedy for coughs, skin irritation, digestive problems and aids in lowering bad cholesterol levels.
The reason marshmallows are listed as the best of the worst ingredients is because the ones used to make gingerbread houses are chock-full of white processed sugar. Four marshmallows are considered a serving, which means one serving has 16 grams of sugar or four teaspoons.
9) Baking Powder
Baking powder is used in baking gingerbread, helping the dough rise. It’s considered bicarbonate and may help to calm an upset stomach caused by irritation from acid reflux. However, lowering acid production too much can erode the stomach’s protective barrier and increase the risk of gastrointestinal infections — the naturally-acidic environment in the stomach provides a protective barrier against pathogens. This might sound like a big deal, and it can be in some scenarios, but not so much in gingerbread. There’s not enough baking powder in gingerbread to warrant any of these concerns.
These colorful candies might make good decorations, but they aren’t good for the body. These sugar-coated chocolate candies are basically sugar, corn syrup, and food dye, mixed with milk chocolate. They’ll spike your blood sugar, which can lead to a surge in energy, followed by a crash. This sugar overload can also cause internal inflammation, which has been linked to chronic conditions, like diabetes or hypertension. Plus, the food dyes in M&M’s can trigger hyperactivity in children, which is the last thing you want to deal with on a hungover Christmas morning.
Often found adorning a holiday gingerbread house, gumdrops are brightly-colored candies made from gelatin or pectin, often dusted with a light coating of sugar. Well, 80 percent of a gumdrop consists of sugar. In fact, a 10-piece serving of gumdrops contains 22 grams of sugar, which is equal to a whopping 5.5 teaspoons. Yikes.
Similar to gumdrops, while sprinkles make good gingerbread house decorations, they make for terrible eating. They’re made from sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch, and a bunch of artificial colors, thickeners — like xanthan gum, which has been linked to digestive disorders — and a wax coating. Just two tablespoons of sprinkles contain 20 grams of sugar, close to the amount in a can of soda.
5) Sour Tape
These might make good window decorations on your gingerbread house, but again, their sugar content is crazy high, and they have loads of artificial colors in them. The primary ingredient is sugar (26 grams per 1.3 ounces), followed by fructose syrup, wheat flour, malic acid, and artificial colors. Sour Tape also contains a preservative called BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and some research shows that BHT causes cancer in animals.
Icing, great for sticking candy to your gingerbread house and even better for giving you diabetes! One ounce of icing contains 22.1 grams of sugar. Ugh.
Despite being super low in this ranking, I’m not against salt. In fact, the body is 70 percent saltwater and we need salt to survive. But the white table salt is added to make gingerbread is the real problem. This type of salt is heated, bleached, heavily refined, and all of the healthful minerals are removed. Then, anticaking agents are added.
When you consume white salt, it makes you hungry, because it’s void of minerals. That means you end up eating more than one gingerbread cookie. On the contrary, unprocessed, natural salt curbs the appetite. It makes you eat less because it’s nourishing and not empty calories.
2) White Flour
Used to bake gingerbread, when white flour is made, all of the healthy bits are removed to increase the shelf life. This creates what I refer to as empty calories, meaning the flour won’t satisfy the cells of the body, which can lead to an increased appetite and weight gain. White flour also creates inflammation in the body, which is linked to many conditions, like fatty liver disease, high bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain mood swings, and a general progression toward obesity.
1) White Sugar
Used in just about every part of gingerbread houses, white sugar is the absolute worst ingredient. On my radio show, I’ve had the honor of interviewing the world’s most renowned and respected authors, doctors and scientists. While most of their opinions contradict each other — from advocates of a paleo diet to keto, vegan and fasting — there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on: White, processed sugar is the worst thing you can put into your body. It’s been linked to causing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Plus, it can be incredibly addictive.
So, in the end, the main takeaway is, the more you decorate the outside of your gingerbread house, the more likely it is to destroy the inside of your body when you eat it.
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About the Author
Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine. Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.Read more here