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Herbs and Spices Make for a Historical -- and Healthy -- Holiday

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On the other hand, ginger, which is used in Middle Eastern, Asian, and Japanese foods, almost sounds like a miracle drug. "There are findings in folk medicine going back hundreds of years that steeping ginger in tea takes the edge off nausea," Preston tells WebMD. "It gives a wonderful flavor to vegetables; you can spice up the flavor without turning the salt shaker upside down."

You may remember mom recommending ginger ale for an upset stomach. Recent studies have also shown that powdered ginger can relieve the morning sickness of pregnant women and prevent motion sickness.

And don't forget to use lots of garlic, onion, and herbs like thyme. They're loaded with chemicals that keep your cells working smoothly and help prevent numerous diseases, including some forms of cancer.

"Some of the mainstream seasonings such as onions and garlic are important," says Preston. "Onions are thought to protect against stomach cancer and garlic to lower cholesterol." However, she says that how garlic is prepared -- chopped, ground, whole -- determines just how strong the health benefits will be.

A warning: Experts also say that some supplements, including garlic and ginger, may interfere with prescription drugs, so patients need to tell their doctors about everything in their medicine chests.

The important thing, Preston says, is to eat the balanced meal and use as many different kinds of vegetables, fruits, and spices as possible. Preston says she looks forward "with relish" to further research of the medical benefits of such foods.

And don't forget those oranges in your stocking: They're packed with fiber, vitamins C and B-1, potassium, and folic acid. The fiber helps lower cholesterol; potassium protects against salt-induced elevation of blood pressure; folic acid protects against some birth defects and lowers the risk of some cancers. And most important of all during the holiday season -- the vitamin C may reduce the severity and duration of a cold.

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