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Is peppermint good for you? An expert weighs in on this holiday season favorite

Do you have a good reason to eat all of that peppermint bark?

peppermint tea with chocolate
Rob Sarmiento / Unsplash

Peppermint bark, peppermint sticks in piping hot cocoa, and peppermint mocha lattes are among the goodies on seasonal menus.

“You can find peppermint in so many different foods, from tea to baked goods,” Sauceda said. “Especially now in the holiday season, you will often find peppermint in goodies and candy canes. Peppermint pairs well with chocolate, which is why you can find a lot of peppermint bark or cookie recipes.”

Is all this peppermint good for you?

Though high-sugar foods and beverages have drawbacks (sorry), experts share that peppermint serves up some significant health perks, especially during the holiday season.

Now that we are entering the holiday season, there are a lot of rich foods, and portions may be bigger too,” said Amanda Sauceda, RD, the founder of The Mindful Gut, LLC and a registered dietitian. “Peppermint can work in your favor by helping an upset stomach and acting as a palate cleanser.”

Experts shared more fresh insights on peppermint benefits and who should go light on the herb. Dieticians also gave tips on how to enjoy peppermint foods this season.

peppermint leaves on blue backdrop
Shaun Meintjes / Unsplash

What does peppermint do for you?

Peppermint is so much more than an ingredient in candy canes.

Peppermint will have a cooling effect, which can be a nice addition to food but can also be helpful as an essential oil and used topically,” Sauceda said. “Some people report peppermint oil applied topically helping when they have a headache.”

What’s the difference between mint and peppermint?

The reason peppermint has a cooling effect is what separates the herb from regular mint.

“Peppermint is more robust and has a higher menthol content,” said Barbara Kovalenko, RDN, a nutrition consultant at Lasta Inc. “The main difference between mint and peppermint is their flavor and aroma. Mint has a milder taste.”

What are the pros and cons of peppermint?

Peppermint benefits include ones for your convenience and health.

You can grow peppermint plants at home for an extra fresh (and fragrant) taste, find the herb in the spices aisle at the grocery store, or even purchase an extract or oil. There are many ways to enjoy the seasonal (and seasonless) ingredient, and experts dished peppermint benefits that make the herb worth adding to meals and snacks (and even nutritious treats).

“Much of the peppermint research centers around helping with digestive discomfort for different types of concerns,” Sauceda explained. 

For instance:

  • IBS. Sauceda said that researchers have noticed mixed results when studying peppermint oil for reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This intestinal condition causes gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. “There is some conflicting research around the efficacy, but it’s thought that the peppermint could help with reducing abdominal pain,” Sauceda said, pointing to research published in 2020 that showed that small-intestinal-release peppermint oil significantly lowered stomach pain, discomfort, and IBS severity.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Sauceda said that researchers have demonstrated that peppermint can reduce nausea and vomiting. A recent 2021 study found it could help patients undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Sports fatigue. Sauceda also brought up a study that showed that peppermint oil helped delay fatigue in runners.

Sounds great, right? However, the herb also has some drawbacks. Experts share that the cons of peppermint might include the following:

  • Heartburn. Though peppermint tea benefits gut health, Sauceda says some people may not tolerate the beverage well. If you’re concerned about acid reflux, you might want to leave this warm beverage out in the cold (figuratively).
  • Irritation. Topical oil application can cause irritation, like rashes, itchiness, or redness. Ingesting peppermint oil may also cause internal issues. “When essential oils are used internally, they have to be diluted and can cause damage if not used appropriately,” Sauceda said.
  • Peppermint might interact with medications. Kovalenko says peppermint could interact with drugs like the immunosuppressant cyclosporine and ones used for acid reflux. Speak to your doctor about concerns.
a peppermint chocolate stack
amirali mirhashemian / Unsplash

Experts share their favorite ways to enjoy peppermint

Now you have a snapshot of the reported peppermint benefits for your health. Let’s get to the fun part: Digging into the ingredients. Experts share peppermint is versatile and adds a fresh twist to many dishes.

“Peppermint is commonly found in various foods such as teas, candies, desserts, and even savory dishes like salads and sauces,” Kovalenko said.

Though you can find peppermint baked into premade foods, experts share you can also add the herb to your DIY dishes. Some of their favorite ways to consume peppermint include:

  • Peppermint tea. Peppermint tea benefits extend beyond potential digestive help. The beverage is so soothing on a cold night. “Steep some fresh peppermint leaves in hot water for a nice after-dinner tea,” Sauceda said. “This is great to help for digestion after big meals.” Kovalenko agrees, adding that this simple recipe is her “personal No. 1” way to consume peppermint.
  • Hot cocoa. If you’re craving something heavier than tea, opt for hot cocoa, but forget the high-sugar candy cane. “You could also toss some peppermint leaves into your hot cocoa,” Sauceda said.
  • Protein bars. Kovalenko said adding peppermint leaves to your favorite homemade protein bars adds a “fresh twist.”
  • Chocolate chia pudding. Sauceda loves this grab-and-go breakfast idea. “Peppermint can also be blended into milk or yogurt and used as a base for a mint chocolate chia pudding,” she said.
  • Dip. Kovalenko suggested adding peppermint leaves to Greek yogurt dip for a winning appetizer on game days, the holidays, or any day.
  • Smoothies. Break out the blender and whip up a refreshing sipper. “Add peppermint to a smoothie recipe for a little minty flavor at the start of your morning or an afternoon pick-me-up,” Sauceda said.
  • Treats. Sauceda suggests using peppermint extract in homemade peppermint patties, while Kovalenko adores mixing crushed peppermint into dark chocolate for a “healthier holiday treat.”

If you’re feeling kind during this season of giving, you may consider sharing your creations with others.

This can make a fun gift to give to people, and you can control the sugar you add,” Sauceda said.

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