A Nutritionist’s Top 4 Health-Enhancing Spices to Add to Your Diet

The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the earth’s population today depends on plants to treat common ailments. It’s no surprise then that common household spices (made from plants!) are a great go-to for attainable health benefits. Consider regularly adding the affordable spices below to your diet and reap the many health rewards…

  • Cumin: In traditional herbal medicine, cumin is used as a diuretic and to treat stomach upsets and flatulence. It’s thought to promote a healthy digestive system. In Ayurvedic medicine, cumin with ghee (clarified butter) is smoked to relieve hiccups. Cumin is a source of Iron, Manganese, and other vitamins and minerals. A recent study suggested cumin is effective in increasing insulin sensitivity and is therefore potentially beneficial for diabetics.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric has long been used in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent. The spice has traditionally been used to treat a wide variety of health conditions, including flatulence, menstrual difficulties, toothache, bruises, chest pain and colic. The pigment that makes turmeric orange is called curcumin and is thought to be the primary pharmacological agent responsible for turmeric’s powerful actions. As an antioxidant, curcumin is said to be able to neutralize free radicals. Neutralising free radicals is important in the management of many diseases, such as arthritis, where free radicals are partially responsible for the painful joint inflammation associated with the disease and eventual degenerative damage to the joints. The combination of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of turmeric consumption accounts for why many people with joint conditions find relief when they use the spice regularly (or take the spice in supplement form). Curcumin also helps stop the oxidation of cholesterol, protecting against the formation of plaque in the arteries.
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a universally versatile and delicious spice. Arguably the most popular of all spices, cinnamon has been prized for centuries for its medicinal properties. Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of trees called Cinnamomum verum. The distinct smell and flavor of cinnamon are due to the oily component of the bark, which is very high in an active compound called cinnamaldehyde. It is this compound that is responsible for most of cinnamon’s powerful effects on health and metabolism. Cinnamon is also loaded with powerful antioxidants. The antioxidants in cinnamon are said to have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help lower the risk of disease. The spice can improve some key risk factors for heart disease. Several small studies have also linked regular cinnamon consumption to improved blood sugar levels. Some of this work shows consumption of cinnamon may curb blood sugar by lowering insulin resistance, but further studies are needed to ascertain the amount that is needed per day and scientific efficacy. 
  • Cayenne: Cayenne pepper is a hot chili pepper that has been associated with a wide range of health benefits.This spice played a very important role in Native American medicine and cuisine for thousands of years. In addition, the chili has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to help treat circulatory problems and increase appetite. It is the active ingredient capsaicin that gives the chili it’s spiciness and this component is commonly used in supplement form for the treatment of aches and pains of the muscles and joints. Capsaicin is also a powerful decongestant, stimulating the release of mucus from respiratory passages and opening the airways. Add some spicy heat to your meals to help ward off colds, sinus infections and sore throats!  

Consider adding a little more spice to your daily diet, by including the above spices into your meals and snacks. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for healthy recipes that include these health-enhancing spices. And of course, spices are a much healthier flavour enhancer for your food over sugar or salt!

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