Eat Well to Be Well: 5 spices to spice up your health

Did you know your spice rack is really your medicine cabinet? One look and you’ll be staring at some of the most powerful and effective secret weapons known for fighting inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and more.

These aromatic substances used for flavoring food have an impressive array of health potential. Before automatically shaking salt or dabbing a dollop of butter onto food, stop. Consider how they contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. Opt instead to use spices to flavor your food. Besides providing a unique, appetizing appeal to your meals, take advantage of their disease-fighting compounds as they protect your body’s health.

While there are more than 100 spices used in cooking throughout the world, there’s no need to go on an exotic hunt. Your local grocery store will carry some of the best spices you need and here are five good examples to begin using in your meals:

1. Tumeric for fighting inflammation

Popular in Indian curry dishes, turmeric has become a trendy super food for its ability to reduce inflammation. A starring component of turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance called curcumin. Research has shown curcumin to be effective for reducing pain and swelling in people with arthritis. This same compound has also been found to inhibit growth of certain breast cancer cells while other research suggests it may also protect against stomach and pancreatic cancers.

How to use it: Try turmeric on vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, on brown rice or quinoa, or sprinkle onto chicken noodle soup.

2. Cinnamon to lower blood sugar

Antioxidant compounds found in this popular spice help to prevent blood sugar spikes and dips by improving the way cells metabolize glucose. Coming from the bark of the cinnamon tree, cinnamon can be used in everything from pumpkin spice lattes to chili. Research has shown that eating half a teaspoon of cinnamon daily may reduce risk factors for diabetes and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Note: Cinnamon is not to be used as a replacement for diabetes medications or a carbohydrate-controlled diet, but it can be a useful addition to a healthy lifestyle.

How to use it: Cinnamon’s versatility makes it good for adding to yogurt, on top of cooked fruit, sprinkled onto oatmeal, added to a smoothie or stirred into chili.

3. Garlic to boost heart health

While uncooked garlic has a characteristic pungent, strong flavor, when cooked it considerably mellows and sweetens, imparting the familiar and desired garlic taste. Besides flavoring foods, garlic also appears to protect against heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Most, if not all of us, will have some hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis. These fatty deposits made up of cholesterol and other substances build up on the inside of your artery walls. As the build-up increases over time, the arteries narrow making you susceptible to heart attacks and strokes.

This is where garlic shines – research has linked garlic with keeping blood vessels flexible and that eating this spice may lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

How to use it: Garlic is a perfect when paired with olive oil and pepper to flavor vegetables or when mixed with fresh rosemary and used as a rub on meats. Finely minced garlic can also be added to soups and homemade salad dressings for a healthy heart boost.

4. Cayenne pepper benefits digestive health

A member of the nightshade family of flowering plants, cayenne pepper is a close relative to bell peppers and jalapenos. This popular spice is used in many different regional styles of cooking but has also been used medicinally for thousands of years. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, provides medicinal properties and is also what gives these peppers their hot taste.

One medicinal use of cayenne pepper is to help boost the stomach’s defense against infections. It also increases digestive fluid production and helps deliver enzymes to the stomach, aiding digestion. It does this by stimulating nerves in the stomach that signal for protection against injury. Many believe spicy foods may cause stomach ulcers, but a review paper has shown that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers may actually help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.

How to use it: Dash cayenne pepper onto hummus, sprinkle onto chili, eggs, soup or add a few shakes onto air-popped popcorn. For a fun twist, add a dash to hot chocolate.

5. Ginger for soothing tummy upset

Used in Asian cultures for centuries, there is no flavor in the world quite like that of ginger. This zesty and biting yet sweet spice comes from a tropical plant known to help treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea. Whether bought as a dried powder in the spice aisle or as fresh ginger root in the produce section, ginger provides a one-two punch in preventing an upset tummy.

Research has found that ginger is also effective for morning sickness in pregnant women in the first or second trimester. However, pregnant women close to labor or who have a history of miscarriage or clotting disorders, should consult their medical provider before using it. Some studies have also found ginger to cut the severity of motion sickness preventing symptoms altogether.

How to use it: Take advantage of ginger’s aromatic flavor that goes great when sprinkled on top of acorn squash, sprinkled onto salads, added to stir-fries, smoothies, or sipping it in tea.


Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at www.eatwelltobewellrd.com.


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