I used to believe that healthy food was dull and boring. My dad (who has been actively managing his diabetes since I was in high school) says “If it tastes good, I need to spit it out”. Thank goodness that when you really learn how to cook healthy food it is anything but boring and bland! In fact, there are a number of reasons to spice it up.
What are Spices?
Spices refer to any dried part of a plant (other than the leaf) that can be used as an ingredient in cooking. (Dried leaves are called herbs in case you were wondering.)
They have been used in cooking across a variety of cultures since our early history. Spices have been used to preserve food, add flavor and for their medicinal purposes. For more info on the historical roots, check out this pretty well researched post from the McCormick Science Institute.
Which Spices are Healthy?
Most spices have at least some health benefit. I will caution that most spice blends sold in the grocery store have artificial fillers and other junk that you probably don’t need.
For that reason, I recommend you buy single spices and create your own blends as desired. It’s so easy to whip up a taco blend, a fajita blend, or whatever else you want.
1 Cayenne Pepper
Most peppers are associated with improved metabolism. Cayenne is not an exception!
The potent ingredient that makes cayenne peppers so healthy is called “capsaicin” which has been linked to several metabolism boosting functions including appetite suppression!
Other benefits of this spicy herb includes:
- Improved sinus drainage
- Increased urination (which indicates better elimination of toxins!)
- Stabilization of blood sugar
- Cancer prevention
- Reduce blood pressure
Perhaps the lesser known quality most worth mentioning of this herb is its role in regulating hormones and eliminating toxins.
Still not convinced? Here’s a more detailed post.
Cinnamon is perhaps the most popular spice for baked goods. It’s been touted in recent years for its role in blood sugar stabilization, which is absolutely true. But it has a few other benefits as well!
The active ingredient in cinnamon is “cinnamaldehyde” which has been associated with:
- Reduces inflammation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Reduces nausea
- Minimize pain
- Fight infections
These benefits makes cinnamon a must-have if you are trying to manage diabetes or other inflammation related diseases! (Just make sure that you aren’t relying on adding them to foods that are disruptive to your blood sugar!)
Want to learn more? Check out this post.
This spice is so popular it rivals black pepper in some cultures! While it’s a very popular flavoring, the health benefits are less well known generally. But wow, the health benefits are pretty diverse!
- Improve digestion (including decreasing gassiness)
- Increase male fertility
- Improve bone density
- Improve vision (it’s even been linked to preventing macular degeneration?!)
- Regulates heart rate
- Decreases blood pressure
- Supports enzyme reactions (these are present in SO MANY different processes I can’t possibly explain it all here!)
- Improve red blood cell count
- Possibly prevent cancer
In addition to these specific benefits, cumin is a very rich source of nutrition. It provides iron, magnesium, calcium, and several vitamins to a meal along with it’s signature flavor.
For more info on the incredible benefits of cumin, check out this post.
Whether you prefer fresh cloves and mince them yourself, or buy one of the many pre-packaged varieties you likely have this spice somewhere in your kitchen!
But do you know how good it is for you?!
Beyond the powerful flavor punch in packs, it also:
- Fights heart disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Fight sickness including the common cold (especially when taken as a medicinal supplement)
- Reduce cholesterol
- Prevents against free radical damage
The active ingredient in garlic is called allicin, which helps to give garlic it’s distinctive smell.
Of course fresh garlic is the most potent, beneficial form. However, other forms are not entirely lacking in nutritional benefits either. If you truly want the medicinal benefits of garlic, however, supplementing with garlic pills is going to yield the highest impact.
Want more info on the benefits of garlic? This post goes into more detail.
If you find yourself reaching for a Ginger Ale to ease an upset stomach, it’s the ginger that is the active ingredient.
Research has shown that ginger is helpful in dealing with nausea as a result of most common causes – from morning sickness to chemotherapy.
But nausea relief isn’t the only superpower this spice has! It also:
- Reduces inflammation
- Relieves pain
There’s some suggestion that because of the antioxidant properties of ginger that it could play a role in preventing cancer, but this seems unclear.
Here’s a post that goes much more in detail on the health benefits of ginger.
This signature spice of Italian and Greek cuisine is a powerhouse! It is naturally high in antioxidants and pretty densely packed with nutrition.
Benefits of consuming oregano regularly include (but aren’t limited to)…
- Boost your immunity
- Improve digestion
- Support for better sleep
- Regulate heart rate and blood pressure
- Supports hormonal health for women
The benefits of oregano go well beyond just cooking though. The oil of oregano for both essential oils and supplements via pills have received increasing levels of attention in the last few years. But for some incredible reasons like the way larger/ more potent doses of oregano is able to drastically support the immune system, improve hair and skin health and even plays a role in anti-aging efforts. Here is a great resource for more information on the benefits of oregano.
Most people who have purchased a pre-filled spice rack often have Rosemary in the house. But, unless you are a rather adventurous cook, you might not have ever actually used it!
For context, rosemary is most commonly used in flavoring lamb dishes. It is similar to mint in it’s surprising flavor but it’s a deeper, richer more complex flavoring. The taste is often described as being like that of pine or a strong tea.
If you have never used it before, here are a couple of reasons to start finding ways to add it in:
- High concentration of antioxidants
- Supports digestion
- Improves the utilization of dietary cholesterol (which is great since it’s often paired with fatty meats)
- Natural food preservative by fighting bacteria
- Minimize allergy responses and nasal congestion
Beyond using rosemary as a culinary spice, it’s a common ingredient in natural skin care. This is helpful due to its ability to support circulation when rubbed on the skin.
When diffused as an essential oil, rosemary can support mental focus!
For more on Rosemary, check out this post.
This is a common ingredients in Indian foods and perhaps best known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains the active ingredient “Curcumin” which is a known cancer-fighting agent. Because of its well known healing properties, Turmeric is one of the most common spices to be taken via supplementation for arthritis pain.
But Turmeric has other benefits as well!
- Natural pain killer
- Regulates female hormones
- Detoxifies the body
- Improves skin
- Can help in wound healing (when applied as a paste)
- Supports cardiovascular health
Unlike most spices, turmeric not only has a high concentration of antioxidants, it actually improves the body’s own antioxidant enzymes production.
Want more reasons to love Turmeric? Check out this post of 100 Evidence-Based Awesome Health Benefits of Turmeric
Where to Start Adding Spices?
You might be reading this thinking: okay, all these spices are healthy… now what?
The easiest thing to do is to make sure you have at least a few of them in your kitchen to be experimenting with as you cook.
Try recipes that use these spices and explore which ones you enjoy.
If you have a particular problem and notice a spice that would support it, do a little more research to investigate if supplementing with pills of that particular spice would be recommended. For example, for someone with diabetes, it might be a good idea to look into supplementing with cinnamon pills.
If you aren’t facing any particular disease or dysfunction in your body, just incorporate spices into your daily foods to support an overall healthy lifestyle… such a tasty way to get healthy!
Also, these 8 spices are not the only beneficial ones! If you have a particular health problem you are trying to solve, Google “spice to help + [your health problem]” and you might get some surprising results!
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