By Christian Dischler

One of the most popular flavors and fragrances in the world, vanilla has been putting smiles on faces for centuries.  Whether it’s flavoring your favorite ice cream or wafting through the house from a novelty candle; its deliciousness cannot be overstated.  But something that often gets overlooked is vanilla’s health benefits.  How does something so popular, versatile and unmistakably its own ingredient stack up in the world of super foods? 

Vanilla is a spice that’s harvested from long, flat pods produced by a specific orchid.  It’s comprised of over 200 compounds, and is considered one of the world’s top 3 most expensive spices.  The most important compound, and the one we’ll be looking into, is vanillin.  Vanillin gives vanilla its recognizable flavor and scent, but it also helps our bodies against inflammation, cancer and offers us antioxidant properties.

While inflammatory responses are normal in the human body, chronic inflammation is a dangerous condition in which our bodies overcompensate a response, and do more harm than good.  Thankfully, recent studies have shown promising result in the effects vanillin has as an anti-inflammatory.  It has been linked to inhibit nitric oxide, reducing the effects of inflammation, and giving us even more reason to load up on vanilla this holiday season.  

Recent studies have also shown vanillin to have an impact on cancerous cells.  It’s been linked to helping mediate certain damage to our DNA, and provide us antimutagenic support.  What this means is that on a molecular and cellular level, vanillin is acting as a sort of inhibitor to a certain set of carcinogens that would otherwise wreak havoc on our systems.  Ranging from reducing metastatic spread, to inhibiting excessive apoptosis, vanillin may help give us the best fighting chance.

And of course, would it even be a super food if it wasn’t loaded with antioxidants?  Vanillin is a phenolic plant compound, and pairs with vanillic acid to provide a one-two punch of antioxidants in this world-renowned sugar substitute, protecting against cell damage.  

As if you needed anymore excuses to start using vanilla and vanilla extract more, now you know it might be your little helper this holiday season in more ways than one.  Use it in cakes, pies, custards, and even savory items to give them a subtle balance of sweetness and depth.  Stock up on some vanilla scented candles or essential oils, and surround yourself with vanilla.  Because if its popularity is any indication, you can never get enough! 

Vanillin gives vanilla its recognizable flavor and scent, but it also helps our bodies against inflammation, cancer and offers us antioxidant properties.

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