Spices are a great way to add zing to your food, and they’re rich with healthy phytochemicals. Like other plant compounds, the healing and healthful properties of spices have been a feature of traditional medicine for thousands of years.
In modern times, researchers delving into the secrets of spices find they can reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, lessen the pain and effects of inflammation, and help protect cells with a bounty of antioxidants. Read on to discover seven spices that pack a healthy punch.
Flavorful and Good for You
You don’t need to look far to find beneficial spices. Chances are, you already have most of these healthy spices on hand.
This pantry staple is made from the dried inner bark of the Cinnamomum and Cassia plants. While people have used cinnamon for centuries to help treat a variety of maladies, research suggests this sweet-smelling spice is rich in antioxidants which fight cell-damaging free radicals. Plus, it can reduce inflammation and lower both cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Sweeter still, cinnamon may help you regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion of carbs.
A hot pepper from the Capsicum family, this spice derives its many health benefits from capsaicin. Studies of this amazing compound suggest it can decrease cancerous cell growth by triggering cell death in breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, prostate cancer, tongue cancer, and many others. Capsaicin may also be useful in fighting diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, and as an aid to digestion and blood circulation.
Used in sweet and savory dishes, this spice consists of seed pods of plants in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The pods are known to help with digestion and to stimulate metabolism, and they have many diverse antioxidant agents to protect healthy cells. Research suggests cardamom can reduce the size and incidence of certain cancer tumors, reduce blood pressure, and boost fibrinolysis, a process that helps dissolve blood clots.
This savory spice comes from the dried seed of the Cuminum cyminum L, a leafy plant in the carrot and parsley family. Two important substances in cumin (apigenin and luteolin) work as antioxidants, protecting healthy cells. Cumin is known for helping with digestive troubles, including irritable bowel syndrome. Research suggests it may also help people manage blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol, and lose weight.
A staple in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, this vibrant yellow-orange spice consists of the dried rhizome of the turmeric plant. It contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory substance. Turmeric has been used for digestive trouble, menstrual regulation, inflammation, and wound healing, among many other ailments.
This zesty spice is rich in gingerol and shogaol, which give it powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer effects. Gingerols, when tested in animals, work to hinder tumor and cancer cell growth. Ginger can be an effective tummy soother, especially helpful with morning sickness, post-operative or post-chemo nausea, and seasickness. Like turmeric, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger also work to reduce muscle pain caused by exercise.
This common black spice gets its zip from the compound piperine, which researchers are studying for its anti-cancer potential. Like other healthful compounds found in spices, piperine can boost antioxidants in the body. Pepper’s ability to arouse secretion of enzymes can aid digestion. Pepper may also help increase absorption of curcumin (see turmeric above) and resveratrol, a polyphenol compound found in grapes, red wine, and other foods.
How to Add Spice to Your Meals
Here are 12 ideas to add a healthful boost to your diet.
- Make golden oatmeal in the morning by adding ½ teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cardamom, and a dash of pepper (to increase your body’s absorption of the curcumin in turmeric).
- Make golden milk by heating 1 1/2 cups of your favorite milk and adding 1 teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon powdered or grated fresh ginger, and a dash of black pepper.
- Add cinnamon to coffee by sprinkling a little in your cup (or on top of your latte or cappuccino). Or add 1 tablespoon to your coffee grounds before brewing a pot.
- Make curry powder by mixing turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and black pepper. Use it to flavor sauces, soups, stews, meats, and vegetables.
- Sprinkle cardamom on berries for an added sweet, spicy, citrusy punch.
- Stir cardamom and cinnamon into your favorite yogurt.
- Punch up snack-time by sprinkling cinnamon on sliced apples, pears, or peaches.
- Brew a soothing cup of cinnamon tea by steeping a couple of cinnamon sticks.
- Add turmeric, cumin, and black pepper to scrambled or deviled eggs and sprinkle into soups.
- Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric to your next pot of rice for a golden Caribbean accent that tastes delicious with cumin-spiced black beans.
- Make spiced nuts by roasting raw nuts with just about any combination of spices and a little olive, coconut, or peanut oil.
- Experiment with spice blends, such as garam masala (an Indian spice mixture used in curries), berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend used in savory stews), and Chinese 5-spice blend when braising meat and poultry, and in rubs and marinades.
To Supplement or Not to Supplement?
Most health-boosting spices are available as over-the-counter supplements, but there are few standards for appropriate dosage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulate dietary supplements. However, neither agency tests manufacturers’ claims for purity, nor do they verify medicinal effects.
Do some research before you take any supplement. And if you’re already taking medications, speak with your doctor to make sure the spice supplement you’re considering doesn’t interfere with your medicines or have side effects when administered in concentrated doses.
Not only can spices add zest to your meals, but their rich chemical compounds can also boost your body’s ability to ward off disease. Plus, they can aid digestion and help reduce pain and regulate blood sugar. Adding new spices to your diet can be as simple as sprinkling a little into your go-to dishes and favorite snacks. And spicing up your diet may lead you to new cuisines and taste adventures. Be sure to replace your spices every six months or so for the most flavor and healthful phytochemicals.