Nutrition news

On Nutrition: Peppermint 101


I like traditions. So I admit being a little annoyed when I hear Christmas carols on the radio before my turkey dinner is digested. And why do they call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” when I still thank for the leftovers?

Having said that, I love the holiday season. And as soon as the turkey soup is ready and we’ve gobbled up the rest of the cranberry vinaigrette and gravy, I’m ready to go from anything orange and pumpkin to anything red, green … and pepper mint.

Why peppermint? Some say we started our Christmas obsession with this flavor in 1670, when a choirmaster handed out a peppermint treat to children who participated in a living nativity scene. Peppermint candy canes arrived centuries later.

Besides getting us into the holiday spirit, are there any health benefits of consuming peppermint? According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (www.nccih.nih.gov), peppermint is a cross between two types of herbs: spearmint and water mint. Health properties have been attributed to its leaves and oil extracted from the leaves and flowering parts of the plant.

Like many herbal products, however, research into the medicinal effects of peppermint is scarce. A few small studies suggest that peppermint oil capsules may help relieve abdominal pain and possibly some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Be careful though: these capsules have been specially coated so that they do not break down before reaching the small intestine. Pure peppermint oil, researchers say, is likely to make digestive problems worse.

Peppermint tea has always been used to treat indigestion and menstrual cramps. Its leaves also provide us with a good dose of antioxidant substances that can protect us from certain diseases and premature aging. And one of the oils extracted from peppermint leaves is menthol, which can help relieve cold and allergy symptoms like stuffy nose and sore throat.

However, peppermint is not for everyone. People with acid reflux (GERD) should avoid peppermint because it can make symptoms worse. Organ transplant patients who are taking a medicine called cyclosporine should also avoid peppermint. And if you’re prone to kidney stones or have severe allergies, be careful with peppermint products.

As much as I love the peppermint flavors this season, I must remember that many get attached to foods high in sugar and fat. Peppermint ice cream, anyone? Let’s not be Scrooges, however. Add some peppermint to your life this season and remember the simple rule of moderation.

I think I just wanted a cup of peppermint hot chocolate. Happy Holidays.

Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Email him at [email protected]