It's time to spice up your life! The verdict is in: Spices are not only for making food taste good, they're also incredibly healthy, and we should be using them in our cooking more. Spices have been revered since antiquity for various reasons, including their potent medicinal properties.
Numerous spices have been shown to help with fat loss, premature aging, controlling blood sugar, and reducing inflammation, among many other benefits.
Here are five super spices you'll definitely want to start adding to your diet:
This sweet spice is actually the inner bark of the cinnamon tree (of which there are numerous varieties). When it is dried, the result is a tubular form commonly known as a quill or cinnamon stick. You can also find powdered or ground cinnamon.
There are over one hundred varieties of cinnamon, with Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon being the most commonly consumed. Ceylon cinnamon is actually referred to as "true cinnamon," and the Chinese variety is known as "cassia." They are both pretty similar, although the flavor of Ceylon cinnamon is subtler than the Chinese type. It is hard to find Ceylon cinnamon in America—cassia cinnamon is less expensive and more common.
Cinnamon has a long history and is one of the oldest spices known to mankind. It receives honorable mentions in the Bible and was used in ancient Egypt to flavor beverages, as medicine, and as an embalming agent. Some ancient Chinese botanical medicinal writings date its use as far back as 2700 BC.
This spice was heavily relied upon in Medieval Europe, and due to its popularity, was one of the first commodities traded with regularity between the Near East and Europe.
Valued as much for its healing attributes as its culinary delight, cinnamon bark contains essential oils with highly active components including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, in addition to a number of other volatile substances. Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants, which help fight off free radicals and improve overall health and well-being.
Antimicrobial: The essential oils in cinnamon allow it to be classified as an"antimicrobial" food. Research demonstrates that it can help stop the propagation of fungi and bacteria, including the yeast Candida.
A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology showed that the spice effectively controlled the spread of foodborne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for 60 days when it was added to carrot broth. In addition, it was useful as a broth flavoring.
Blood sugar regulation: Cinnamon has proven itself to be a viable contender when it comes to lowering blood sugar in persons with diabetes. In fact, it has been found to have insulin-like impacts on blood sugar and slows the emptying rate of the stomach after meals, which improves insulin sensitivity.
Cognitive function and memory: Research from Wheeling Jesuit University found that just smelling cinnamon can help to increase memory and mental alertness. In another study, it was found that cinnamon extracts can halt the aggregation of tau proteins, a condition that is common in people suffering from Alzheimer's.
Other noted benefits of cinnamon:
Reducing joint pain and stiffness
Reducing headache pain
Relieving menstrual pain
Helping to prevent tooth decay and gum disease
How can I get more cinnamon in my diet?
There is no doubt that adding more cinnamon to your diet is a good thing. Although there is no recommended dose, some suggest between ½ to 1 teaspoon per day, while others increase this to 2 teaspoons. Keep in mind that people who are allergic should not consume cinnamon, as large doses may cause an extreme reaction.
Cinnamon is not one of those things you just eat on its own—you have to creatively work it into your daily diet. The good news is that this potent spice is extremely versatile and pleasant-tasting. Here are five ways you can get more cinnamon!
Mix it with your green tea: Add one to two teaspoons of organic ground cinnamon to a hot cup of green tea. Stir slowly to help the cinnamon dissolve.
Mix it with your coffee prior to brewing: Add an organic cinnamon stick or a teaspoon of organic ground cinnamon to your ground coffee before brewing. This will make your coffee taste great, and make your whole house smell wonderful.
Add it to soups and stews: Cinnamon adds a wonderful flavor and aroma to a wide range of soups and stews. You won't believe how good these can taste with just a bit of cinnamon in the mix. Add a dash or two of organic cinnamon to chili, lentils, beef stew and black bean soups for great warming goodness.
Add it to your breakfast: Ground cinnamon tastes great when sprinkled on all sorts of breakfast foods, including free-range eggs, oatmeal, cottage cheese and yogurt. Get into the habit of having a container of organic cinnamon handy so you can sprinkle away.
Add it to your green smoothie: To further enhance the benefits of a green smoothie, add a teaspoon of organic cinnamon along with all of your other goodies. This will add a pleasant taste and aroma to your drink.
Getting out of the mindset that cinnamon can only be added to baked goods is a great first step to healthy living. There are many other ways you can enjoy this spice on a daily basis, such as adding it to rice, barley, casseroles and salads.
Turmeric is a herbaceous plant also known as Curcuma longa that is a member of the ginger family, which has been used throughout India and the Orient for thousands of years.
Historical records note that ancient Polynesians took turmeric with them when they sailed across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, where the spice is still used today and is known as olena.
In India, this golden spice has long been called "holy powder," and is used extensively to treat infections, wounds and a myriad of other health problems.
Once thought of as only a folktale, modern research is now confirming what the people of India and many parts of Asia have known for thousands of years, turmeric is a spice you don't want to pass up.
Scientists are finding an astonishing array of antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral and antibiotic properties. As an immune system booster, turmeric is five to eight times stronger than vitamin C and E.
Studies show that curcumin, the principal curcuminoid of turmeric, inserts itself into cell membranes where it does a little housecleaning and reorganizing, adding vibrancy to the cell itself.
Suddenly a disorganized cell becomes organized, allowing information to flow through it so it can function more effectively. The result of this action increases the cell's resistance to infection and malignancy, which can keep a number of serious conditions at bay:
Inflammatory bowel disease
Cases of the four most common cancers found in America are very low in India, where turmeric is a food staple. These cancers include colon, breast, prostate and lung, occurring ten times less frequently in India than in the U.S. Prostate cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in the United States, is hardly ever found in Indian men.
Studies that have examined the medicinal impact of curcumin have found that it keeps cells from changing from normal to cancerous and stops the spread of existing cancerous cells. Furthermore, it works in conjunction with the body to destroy existing cancer cells so they are unable to spread to the rest of the body. Liver function is enhanced in individuals who use curcumin regularly, and it appears to prevent additional blood from reaching cancer cells, which retards their growth.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, reports that curcumin blocks the pathway in the body that is required for melanoma and other cancers to develop. In a laboratory setting, curcumin actually causes cancer cells to commit suicide. In addition, it has been found to shut down the protein needed to induce an inflammatory response.
Curcumin is probably best known for its strong anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a normal and beneficial process that occurs when white blood cells and chemicals in the body join up to protect you from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. So some level of inflammation is good and required for health. However, the inflammatory response often gets out of control.
This happens when the immune system triggers an inflammatory response without a real threat. This can easily cause excess inflammation to stay in the body: a condition that is linked to allergies, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease and other serious medical conditions.
Excess inflammation can also cause irritation to tissues, which translates into the pain, swelling and redness so often seen in people suffering from osteoarthritis. According to one study, patients suffering from osteoarthritis who added 200 mg of curcumin daily to their treatment plan, had a significant decrease in pain and much improved mobility. The control group, who received no curcumin had no improvements.
In another study, turmeric extract blocked the inflammation pathways, which prevented the protein responsible for swelling and pain from triggering.
So many people with inflammation induced pain take non-steroidal medications such as Tylenol for relief. However, chronic use of these medications has been associated with some rather serious side effects, such as cardiovascular problems, kidney and liver damage as well as gastrointestinal problems.
There are a number of supplement forms of turmeric widely available; however, high doses are needed in order to achieve all of the anticancer benefits, mostly due to the fact that curcumin is not absorbed particularly well.
The best way to absorb curcumin is to combine a tablespoon of curcumin powder with 1–2 egg yolks and two teaspoons of melted coconut oil. This will emulsify the powder and enhance absorption.
Use organic and fresh turmeric liberally in the kitchen. It has an earthy and peppery flavor.
Ginger is packed with so many powerful compounds it should be considered a staple in any healthy diet. In fact, it offers so many medicinal properties that some feel it should be a must in the medicine cabinet as well.
This wonderful spice has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and offers anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities. It can even be used as an analgesic. Ginger is also considered one of the best detoxifying herbs, frequently recommended in cleansing programs and detox diets.
Where do ginger's healing properties come from?
The healing portion of the plant is referred to as the rhizome, which is the thick underground stem. The stem can be steeped in water, used as a tea or grated in order to spice up a meal. Ginger essential oil, available at many health food stores, can be used in a bath to sooth sore muscles and joints.
Ginger as a detox/cleanser
Ginger is used in many popular cleansing programs, as it is thought to cleanse the body by stimulating digestion, circulation and sweating. Its digestive actions may serve to cleanse the buildup of waste and toxins in the colon, liver and other organs.
Detoxification enhances the body's natural cleansing process, allowing it to build better defenses against illness and disease. It also helps to stimulate blood circulation, preventing clotting.
The healing and detoxifying properties of ginger may be due to its high concentration of gingerol and shoga, which provide anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects on the gastrointestinal system.
These properties help to sustain digestive enzymes, which neutralize acids, supporting the entire digestive process. As a result, stomach discomforts such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation can be relieved.
Add fresh ginger to as many dishes as you can, on a daily basis if possible.
Grate some ginger root and toss it into your juicer along with fruits and vegetables for a delicious, healthy drink. Mixed with apples, carrots and a little lemon juice, it tastes fabulous.
One of the best ways to enjoy ginger's health benefits is through a ginger tea. Prepare the tea by steeping about five slices of ginger (two teaspoons of fresh grated ginger) in hot water. For an extra powerful digestive soother, add chamomile and peppermint tea leaves.
Oregano, a fragrant and delicious herb that is frequently found in Mediterranean dishes, has been shown to have extremely high levels of antioxidants, as well as potent fungus-fighting potential.
One study, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), tested a variety of herbs for their antioxidant activity. Mexican, Italian and Greek oregano were found to have the highest antioxidant levels of all of the herbs tested.
Antioxidants are compounds that have received a great deal of media attention as of late. They are linked to preventing cellular damage and neutralizing harmful compounds known as free radicals. Antioxidants are also associated with the prevention of heart disease, multiple cancers, stroke and other chronic ailments.
Herbal runners-up in the USDA study included dill, thyme, rosemary and peppermint; however, oregano was found to possess between three and 20 times higher antioxidant activity than any of the other herbs tested. The study also found that oregano's antioxidant powers surpassed those of vitamin E, and even fruits, vegetables, berries and garlic.
Specifically, oregano was found to have 42 times the antioxidant activity of apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, as well as four times more than blueberries.
The study found the most active phenol component in oregano was rosmarinic acid, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. Rosmarinic acid is present in some of the other herbs tested, including rosemary, but was shown to be much more active in oregano.
Another study, performed at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, tested the antimicrobial activity of essential oil extracted by various methods from oregano leaves. The extractions were analyzed for their effectiveness against four different bacteriums, and one fungus.
Researchers found that the oregano essential oil extractions displayed antimicrobial action against all of the microorganisms tested. The bacteria tested were Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The fungus tested was the yeast Candida albicans.
USDA study leader Shiow Y. Wang, a biochemist with the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, wrote, "Some herbs should be considered as regular vegetables. People should use more herbs for flavoring instead of salt and artificial chemicals."
Oregano is easy to incorporate into your favorite savory dishes, and the flavor—and health benefits—that it offers will up both the taste and the nutritional quotient of your meals. When cooking with oregano, use fresh varieties, as they contain more antioxidants than processed, dry versions.
The essential oil form of oregano is also great to keep around. It can be used in aromatherapy, or diluted and applied to the skin for massage, and to help aid the healing of fungal infections such as athlete's foot.
If you have a specific condition, or for information on how to use oregano essential oil internally, be sure to speak with a natural health professional. Oregano essential oil is highly potent, and should not be used by pregnant women.
Cayenne pepper has been used for centuries throughout the world, particularly in China and the Americas, for culinary as well as medicinal purposes.
It contains capsaicin, the compound which makes it spicy and also offers a number of therapeutic properties. If you don't have this fabulous spice in your kitchen cabinet, it's one you should definitely put at the top of your shopping list.
Capsaicin is believed to have the ability to kill cancer cells. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that the substance caused tumor cells to kill themselves in a process known as apoptosis. Another study out of Loma Linda University, California, found that it may even help prevent lung cancer in smokers.
Aiding digestive woes
Although cayenne pepper is spicy, it has been shown to help heal intestinal and stomach ulcers, in addition to improving digestion by stimulating the peristaltic movement of the intestines. It can also help relieve digestive issues like gas and abdominal cramps.
Preventing and easing the pain of migraines
A 1998 study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that capsaicin worked better than a placebo for cluster headaches, although their research found that the compound needs to be applied topically, such as by swabbing the inside of the nose, in order for it to be effective.
Cayenne has the ability to increase the pulse of the lymphatic and digestive rhythms, which aids in streamlining the natural process of detoxification. This spicy pepper also causes us to sweat, which is an important part of that process.
Relief from arthritis pain
Capsaicin also works on the sensory nerves, relieving pain caused by arthritis and rheumatism when applied directly to the skin in the form of a cream or a lotion.
Supporting weight loss
Researchers from Laval University in Quebec found that study participants who consumed cayenne pepper for breakfast had less of an appetite, which led to consuming fewer calories throughout the day. It's also known to help boost the metabolism and aid the body in burning excess fat.
Stabilizing blood pressure
Cayenne pepper helps to normalize blood pressure by regulating the flow of blood from head to toe. It also equalizes blood pressure in the arteries and veins almost immediately. In addition, it can remove blockages present in arteries to improve blood flow.
Improving heart health
Cayenne pepper is known to improve cholesterol levels, supply vital nutrients to the heart, remove toxins from the blood and even rebuild blood cells. It can also aid in removing plaque that sticks to the arteries.
Adding cayenne pepper to your diet during allergy season is recommended by many nutrition experts for relieving allergy symptoms. That's because capsaicin is believed to thin the mucus and stimulate the sinuses, which helps us to breathe more effectively.
Many spices, but especially these five, are incredibly beneficial for your health. What's your favorite way to include them in your diet?