Registered dietitian nutritionist Shannon Galyean says its ingredients are good for brain health, digestion and more.
It's fall, and you know what that means – pumpkin spice is everywhere.
Walk through the grocery store and you'll find all the usual things you might expect to be pumpkin-spiced – candies, baked goods, cereal – but you'll also find a few things you might not expect.
"Spam was probably the most surprising," laughs Shannon Galyean, a registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant professor in the Texas Tech University Department of Nutritional Sciences. "I was amazed at all the products that are out there, actually."
Galyean likes the pumpkin-spice coffee creamer better than the flavored coffee. The pumpkin spice cookies are "pretty fabulous." And, while she hasn't tried them yet, she says the pumpkin spice Pop-Tarts and cinnamon rolls sound delicious.
As the seasoning for the season, pumpkin spice is turning up in all kinds of likely and unlikely products for the fall. And, as far as Galyean is concerned, that's a good thing.
"It makes all of us excited for the holidays," she said. "Personally, I just get excited for the holidays and for fall, and I think many of us love that time of year."
Of course, it's an added bonus for her on a professional level that pumpkin spice has so many health benefits.
If you just did a double-take, you're not alone.
While Galyean cautions that consuming pumpkin spice in too many baked goods and lattes can pack on the pounds, pumpkin spice itself carries numerous benefits for our bodies.
What's in pumpkin spice?
Pumpkin spice comes in a few different varieties, but the main ingredients are pretty consistent: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
Nutrition studies have shown these ingredients, individually, can make a positive difference in one's health.
"Cinnamon has number of 'anti' properties: it's antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial," Galyean said. "There are some studies showing that it's anti-inflammatory, so it's been shown to reduce blood sugars, triglyceride levels and cholesterol. It's a small reduction, but it still has that anti-inflammatory property."
Other studies have shown that cinnamon can protect brain cells, improving memory and cognition. Nutmeg, likewise, has been shown to recover brain tissue in stroke victims and help Alzheimer's patients. Ginger contributes to better digestion and reduces nausea. Clove, specifically clove oil, is used for oral health. In dental work, it can be applied directly to the gums to control infection and pain.
"So, it has many health benefits and it tastes good," Galyean sums up.
Of course, the health benefits of pumpkin spice can be outweighed by the calorie and fat contents of some of the foods it appears in. But Galyean says there are smart, health-conscious ways to partake.
"Try to have the protein bars, yogurts, oatmeal and some of those products more than all the baked goods," she recommends. "Or, making your own products and adding canned pumpkin can add many more health benefits with fiber and all the vitamins and minerals."
What it really boils down to, she says, is being able to make the most of the season without going overboard.
"You can embrace and enjoy it," she said, "but still stay healthy and not increase your midline."