Spices have a long history of being used for their flavor and medicinal qualities. In the U.S., seasonings that contain added sugar and salt are used more often than pure spices. This may be because many people do not recognize the health benefits of using pure spices. Using spices can add more flavor to your favorite foods and drinks or help you to create new recipes. Spices can also improve the function of your immune system and help prevent conditions such as inflammation, heart disease, cancer and more. Open yourself up to a new world of flavor and spice up your health with these doctor and dietitian favorites:
1. Garlic is classified as a vegetable but is used more like a spice added to flavor food. Garlic gains its health benefits and its distinct smell from a compound called allicin. Garlic can help combat sickness such as the common cold and there is evidence it may be beneficial for heart health, possibly having a positive effect on cholesterol and blood pressure.
Raw garlic has a pungent flavor which turns sweeter when cooked, like its relative, the onion. You can roast and eat it whole or try adding fresh or ground garlic to:
2. Turmeric is a flowering plant in the ginger family, well known as the golden spice used in curry. Turmeric contains several beneficial compounds including the phytochemical curcumin, which provides the spice with most of its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties.
Turmeric provides an earthy, peppery flavor that can be used in much more than curry. Try adding turmeric to:
Brown rice or quinoa
Low sodium soups
3. Paprika is made from a variety of ground dried red peppers and gets its health benefits from a phytochemical called capsaicin. This compound gives peppers their hot flavor, but paprika alone has a mild taste. Paprika has antioxidant properties and may decrease the risk for cancer and heart disease while also boosting immunity.
Paprika should be added near the end of cooking to maintain the sweet, mildly hot flavor. Try adding paprika to:
Sweet potato home fries
Salsa or tomato sauce
4. Cinnamon is a spice made from the inner bark of several tree species and is commonly used in baked goods such as pies and cookies. There are two kinds of cinnamon, Ceylon “true cinnamon,” and Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is more common but can be dangerous if eaten in large amounts, so choose Ceylon if possible. Both kinds of cinnamon contain the phytochemical cinnamaldehyde, a compound which has anti-inflammatory properties and may be antiviral, help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
Cinnamon adds a little sweet and spicy flavor to almost any dish. Try adding cinnamon to:
Fresh or cooked fruit
Tea or coffee
5. Ginger is a flowering plant commonly used in spicing baked goods and sauces. Ginger gets its benefits from a variety of compounds called gingerols, which provide ginger with natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. Ginger can also help with motion sickness and arthritis. There is evidence it may even help lower blood sugar, protect against heart disease and certain cancers and more. However, ginger may interfere with some medications, so speak with your doctor before using this spice if you are on medication.
Ginger is warming to the taste and has a citrus, earthy flavor. Try adding ginger to:
Vegetable stir fry
Tea or kombucha
Choosing Spices & How Much
When choosing spices, look at the ingredients list. Try to choose pure spices or combinations of pure spices more often than spices that have added sugar or salt. The key is to use a small amount of spices regularly, this means just a dash or an eighth of a teaspoon in most cases. You can add more than one spice to each dish or drink and get creative. The evidence is clear that spices are good for your health and there are many more beneficial spices beyond this list for you to discover and enjoy.
Written by: Kelsey Masso, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern