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Is Nutmeg Safe? What You Should Know About This Holiday Spice

Is Nutmeg Safe? What You Should Know About This Holiday Spice

  • Plenty of spices are great for you, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Nutmeg is a prime example.
  • This spice contains a chemical called myristicin, which causes hallucinogenic effects at high doses. In some cases, it can even be fatal.
  • When I was developing the Bulletproof Diet, I added a generous mound of fresh nutmeg to my eggnog. Unfortunately, my eyesight was affected, my body hurt, and I was sleepy and sluggish for about a day.
  • Nutmeg is already suspect on the Bulletproof Diet because it’s highly susceptible to storage toxins from mold.
  • If you’re going to use this spice, grate fresh nutmeg with a microplane. Use just a pinch for flavor. A little goes a long way.

Plenty of spices are great for you. They’re packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and they make food taste better. Now that we’re heading into the holidays, here’s an important PSA: There’s a reason most recipes only tell you to use a pinch of nutmeg. Too much can actually be toxic.

The problem with nutmeg: My cautionary tale

Closeup of eye

When I was developing the Bulletproof Diet more than a decade ago, I developed an epic recipe for Bulletproof eggnog. It was made with coconut milk, grass-fed butter, Brain Octane Oil, raw egg yolks, xylitol, vanilla, and, of course, nutmeg.

As I write in my book “The Bulletproof Diet,” nutmeg has a relatively high risk for storage toxins from mold. So, I went straight for the fresh raw nut and grated it into the recipe. I added a generous extra mound to my serving because we all know that spices are good for us. Right?

About 20 minutes later, I noticed that my eye movement was dysfunctional. We all have small twitches in the way our eyes move around.[1] Our brains smooth this movement out so the world doesn’t look like a blurry mess. Either my eyes were moving differently or my brain became weak and couldn’t smooth out their natural jumpy movement.

Neurologists measure small movements of the eye to determine how well your brain and nervous system are working, and I knew that my brain and body were out of sync. For a couple of hours, I felt like I was watching the world in stop-motion photography. Plus, my body hurt, and I felt sleepy and sluggish for a day.

As a good biohacker, I want to know what impacts my performance. I’ve experimented with all the other ingredients in that original Bulletproof eggnog recipe, and the only red flag was the amount of nutmeg I used. Some good spices and herbs are fine at higher levels, like rosemary, oregano, and turmeric, but even those have upper limits of safety. Nutmeg has a low safety threshold.

Related: Find out which spices are good for you with the Complete Bulletproof Roadmap to Spices & Flavorings

How much nutmeg is toxic?

Nutmeg spice

How does a simple spice cause so much trouble? Nutmeg’s effects are caused by a chemical called myristicin. Just 5 grams of nutmeg with 1 to 2 mg myristicin is considered toxic.[2] Higher doses of myristicin can be fatal.

You’ll start to feel the effects of nutmeg at even ½ teaspoon. Myristicin causes symptoms like giddiness and hallucinations, which is why some people intentionally consume nutmeg to achieve a “nutmeg high.”[3] [4] This is a terrible idea, and people occasionally end up in the hospital from it, or just feel like crap.

Other forms of nutmeg

Whole and ground nutmeg

Like any other spice, the pre-ground nutmeg you find on grocery store shelves isn’t as potent as the fresh stuff, but it has a much higher risk of storage mold toxins — especially because that bottle of nutmeg in your cabinet probably hasn’t been opened for at least a year.

Related: Why Mycotoxins Are Kryptonite (And How To Hack Them)

Yes, spices are susceptible to mold and food-borne illnesses, just like any other food.[5] That’s one of the reasons the Bulletproof Diet recommends you either use fresh spices or you rotate the ground spices you use regularly.

What about nutmeg essential oil?

Essential oil on fingertip

Essential oils contain highly concentrated active compounds in a neutral carrier oil. Rodent studies show that nutmeg essential oil has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antithrombotic effects. It’s also a source of antioxidants.[6] [7] However, nutmeg essential oil still contains myristicin, so you should use it in moderation.

It’s amazing how many ways plants make toxins to keep us from eating them. Part of the Bulletproof Diet, and part of biohacking in general, is figuring out which of Mother Nature’s plants, molds, and bacterial toxins impact you the most so you can steer clear. I write about some of the medicinal plants that people use in my new book “Game Changers: What Leaders, Innovators, and Mavericks Do to Win at Life,” but nutmeg isn’t one of them.

The bottom line is that I still recommend fresh nutmeg, ground with a microplane. A small amount goes a long way for adding flavor, but too much might make you feel hungover in a way you wouldn’t expect. I recommend it in the following Bulletproof recipes: Creamy Spiced Eggnog, Paleo Pumpkin Bread, and this Anti-Inflammatory Spiced Chai Latte.

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