Add Spice to Your Life

bowl of cinnamon sticksPretty much every ancient civilization used herbs and spices for a wide array of health reasons, with the real “Spice Age” coming in the 14th and 15th centuries. Western medicine also has its roots in plants, with such staples in the modern medicine cabinet as aspirin and cough syrup coming directly from plant sources. So, is it any wonder that your spice rack is a smorgasbord of more than just flavor? Let’s take a look at some of the most deliciously healthy spices you should have in your kitchen.

Besides being delicious in everything from baked goods to tea to meat rubs, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Known for providing the yellow color to curry dishes, turmeric reduces inflammation, which may help to:

  • Reduce arthritis pain
  • Increase joint mobility
  • Slow cognitive decline
  • Reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Ease depression symptoms
  • According to one high-profile study, turmeric may even help fight cancer!

Basil contains flavonoids—a type of phytonutrient that helps protect cells and DNA from damage. It’s also shown antibacterial properties and may help fight antibiotic-resistant infections.

Cayenne and chili peppers
The “heat” in hot peppers comes from a plant compound called capsaicin. Because of the way your brain responds to capsaicin, it can actually lessen the pain you feel from other sources like arthritis or diabetic nerve pain. Another benefit is that, despite our fears of an upset stomach from spicy foods, capsaicin kills off the bacteria that cause ulcers.

Delicious ginger is widely known for treating and preventing nausea from pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. It also soothes upset stomachs, treats diarrhea, suppresses the appetite, prevents gas and eases menstrual cramps!

A powerhouse among spices, garlic has been researched extensively. Some of its top benefits are:

  • Prevents hardening of the arteries
  • Reduces cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Provides immune system support as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal
  • Acts as a potent anti-inflammatory
  • Lowers blood pressure

Oregano is one of the best sources of antioxidants among herbs and spices. It has powerful antiseptic properties and has even been shown to prevent food-borne illness when eaten with contaminated food.

Best ways to use spices to preserve (and enhance!) antioxidants, etc.
Frying isn’t the healthiest way to prepare food, regardless of the ingredients, but did you know that both frying and grilling can destroy the antioxidants in spices? Instead, try gentler cooking methods like simmering, stewing and even microwaving, to actually boost their antioxidant power.

When you do feel like firing up the grill, here’s a tip: Adding herbs and spices to your grilled meat (whether in a marinade, a rub or mixed into ground meat) helps reduce the cancer-causing compounds that form in blackened or charred meat.