Mustard is a popular condiment made from the seeds of the mustard plant.
This plant is native to the Mediterranean region and related to nutrient-rich vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Its edible seeds and leaves make it a versatile addition to your dishes.
Aside from its culinary uses, mustard has a history of use as a remedy in traditional medicine dating as far back as ancient Greek and Roman civilizations — perhaps for a good reason.
Modern science is starting to link mustard to health benefits ranging from lower blood sugar levels to increased protection from infections and disease.
This article reviews the science behind mustard and its potential health benefits.
Mustard is a source of nutrients
Mustard plants come in several dozen varieties, all rich in nutrients.
Their leaves contain significant amounts of calcium, copper, and vitamins C, A, and K, while their seeds are particularly rich in fiber, selenium, magnesium, and manganese.
Mustard leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, making them a versatile addition to salads, soups, and stews. They can be prepared the same way as spinach but will give your meals a sharper, radish-like flavor.
Mustard seeds can be steeped in warm milk, whisked into salad dressings, ground, sprinkled into warm meals, or soaked and used to make a mustard paste.
Mustard paste is arguably the most popular way to consume mustard. This low-calorie condiment is a simple way to add a dash of iron, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus to your meals.
Summary: The mustard plant is rich in various nutrients. Its edible seeds and leaves make it a versatile addition to your diet. Mustard paste is a low-calorie way to add flavor and a dash of nutrients to your meals.
Mustard is a source of beneficial antioxidants
Mustard contains antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds thought to help protect your body against damage and disease.
For instance, it’s a great source of glucosinolates, a group of sulfur-containing compounds found in all cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and mustard.
Glucosinolates are activated when the plant’s leaves or seeds are damaged — either through chewing or cutting — and are believed to stimulate your body’s antioxidant defenses to protect against disease. Mustard seeds and leaves are particularly rich in the following:
- Isothiocyanates. This compound is derived from glucosinolates, which may help prevent cancer cells from growing or spreading.
- Sinigrin. This glucosinolate-derived compound is responsible for mustard’s pungent taste and thought to possess anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, and wound-healing properties.
Mustard is also rich in carotenoids, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol. Research links these flavonoid antioxidants to protection from conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and perhaps even some types of cancer.
Summary: Mustard is rich in glucosinolates and powerful antioxidants, which promote health and may protect against various diseases.
Mustard may offer protection against certain diseases
The mustard plant has been used as a traditional remedy against various ailments for centuries. Recently, scientific evidence has emerged to support some of mustard’s proposed benefits:
Mustard may protect against certain types of cancer.
Test-tube and animal research suggest that the glucosinolates in mustard may help kill cancer cells or prevent them from spreading. However, more human research is needed.
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Mustard may lower blood sugar levels.
One small human study suggests that taking blood-sugar-lowering medication with a mustard green decoction may lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes more effectively than medication alone.
Mustard may protect against psoriasis.
Animal studies suggest that a diet rich in mustard seeds may help reduce inflammation and promote healing of psoriasis-caused lesions.
Mustard may reduce symptoms of contact dermatitis.
Animal research suggests that mustard seeds may speed healing and reduce symptoms of contact dermatitis, a condition in which the skin develops an itchy rash following contact with an allergen.
Mustard may offer protection against infections.
The antioxidants in mustard seeds may offer some protection against bacteria and fungi, including E. coli, B. subtilis, and S. aureus. However, some studies report no protective effects.
Though promising, the number of studies supporting these benefits remains small. Moreover, most have been performed in cells or animals using mustard extracts.
Therefore, it’s unclear whether consuming mustard seeds, leaves, or paste would exert similar effects. More research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Summary: Mustard may protect against bacteria, fungi, and cancerous cells and reduce inflammation and blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Safety and possible side effects of mustard
Eating mustard seeds, leaves, or paste is generally considered safe for most people, especially when consumed in amounts typically found in the average person’s diet.
Consuming large amounts, such as those typically found in mustard extracts, may result in abdominal pain, diarrhea, and inflammation of the gut.
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There’s also a report of a woman developing contact dermatitis after applying a Chinese medicine patch containing mustard seeds directly to her skin.
Finally, uncooked mustard seeds and leaves contain a significant amount of goitrogens. These compounds can interfere with the normal function of your thyroid, which is the gland responsible for regulating your metabolism.
This is unlikely to cause a problem in people with normal thyroid function. However, those with impaired thyroid function may want to soak, boil, or cook mustard seeds and leaves before eating them or limit their intake.
Summary: Consuming mustard is generally considered safe. However, consuming large amounts or applying it directly to the skin may cause problems for some people.
Mustard is most commonly eaten as a condiment, but mustard seeds and leaves are two additional ways to reap this plant’s potential health benefits.
These range from lower blood sugar levels and reduced inflammation to increased protection against infection. The compounds in mustard may even offer protection against certain types of cancer.
Though promising, remember that many of these potential benefits are supported by small studies that were mostly performed on animals and used extracts rather than mustard seeds, leaves, or paste.
That said, if you enjoy mustard, there’s little risk to adding it to your daily meals.