What Are The Most Healthy Spices?
Healthy spices have many beneficial properties and can improve the quality of your health. This is because spices have high levels of antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties which come from the high concentrations of polyphenols found in them. Therefore, healthy spices help fight free radicals. Some spices also help lower inflammation which plays a key role in chronic diseases such as Alzheimers. Other spices such as cinnamon can potetially lower blood glucose levels in diabetics, and LDL cholesterol in heart disease. An additional benefit is that healthy spices can assist with weight loss as they compensate for flavour. Spices can help with transitioning to a healthier diet which is lower in salt, fat and sugar as the spices provide the flavour without the extra calories.
10 Healthy Spices With Powerful Health Benefits
David Heber of the UCLA Center For Human Nutrition counts chilli peppers, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano and garlic amongst the most healthy spices. Other spices known to have health benefits are ginger, fenugreek, cumin, black pepper and cloves. The good news is that the health benefits of spices can be realised by consuming them even in small amounts. Dried spices contain concentrated amounts of active ingredients. However healthy spices are best consumed fresh, as the active ingredients degrade over time. Here are facts on 10 spices that will improve your health, and tips on how to include them into your diet.
Turmeric. This spice has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years for it’s anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. The key component in turmeric that gives it these properties is curcumin which is a natural antiseptic. Research has shown that turmeric is as powerful as some anti inflammatory drugs in combating chronic inflammation. Several studies are investigating potential benefits of turmeric in slowing down growth of cancerous cells and in removal of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. According to Dr Weil, an expert in anti inflammatory medicine, the dosage of turmeric required to treat specific conditions is between 400 – 600 mg per day. Therefore, you would need to take it as a nutritional supplement in that case. However, using the spice in food is still of value for general health. Another point to note is that black pepper helps with the absorption of turmeric, so use the two spices together for maximum effect.
Turmeric is one of the easiest healthy spices to add to your diet. It is extensively used in Indian cooking to flavour curries and add a bright yellow colour to food. Try adding a pinch of turmeric into soups, stews and vegetable dishes. Furthermore, tea made from turmeric is a popular beverage in Okinawa, where people have some of the longest lifespans in the world.
Chilli peppers contain a compound called capsaicin which not only gives the fiery flavour to peppers but is also an antioxidant. The hotter the chilli, the more capsaicin it contains. Research carried out at UCLA has shown that chilli peppers may assist with weight loss as they can suppress appetite and have a thermogenic effect. Dieters may benefit from increased metabolism and fat-burning. The reasearch found that the amount of red chilli pepper needed to reduce appetite is 1 gram. However, it was also noted that people who regularly eat chilli peppers build up a tolerance to it, and it does not have this effect for them.
Chilli peppers are used the world over to add heat to curries, stews, meat and poultry marinades and vegetable dishes. One of the healthy spices that are simple to add to your diet if you enjoy heat in your food! Have a look at some of our delicious spicy recipes that use chilli.
Oregano has been shown to have greater antioxidant properties than even blueberries and apples. The active ingredients are carvacrol, rosmarinic acid and thymol. Oregano has been proven as a powerful antibiotic against staphylococcus bacteria which is why health shops sell “oil of oregano”. Due to its antioxidant properties, it is thought that oregano may also help fight cancer. However, there is insufficient evidence from human trials to date to support this.
Oregano is widely used in the Mediterranean to flavour vegetable dishes and it goes particularly well with eggplant, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and meat. Add fresh oregano leaves to salads and pastas for delicious flavour.
Ginger has a long history as a remedy for nausea, colds, flu and digestive problems like acid re-flux. Several bio-active ingredients have been identified in Ginger including gingerol and zingerone. Studies by pharmaceutical companies have confirmed ginger’s antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Among the many health benefits of ginger, recent research has shown that ginger can help reduce muscle soreness resulting from exercise, and reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis. In addition, studies have also shown that ginger can lower fasting blood sugar by up to 12% when type 2 diabetics consume 2g of ginger per day. Another study also showed that LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels can be reduced by taking 3g of ginger daily. Pregnant women who suffer from morning sickness can take between 1g to 1.5g ginger to help with symptoms. Although, it is best to consult with a health care provider before taking any supplementation especially if you are pregnant.
Ginger is used in cooking in many cuisines either fresh or dried or powdered and is easily included in the diet by flavouring stir-fries, curries, tea and as a sweet and sour glaze when mixed with honey.
Garlic contains a powerful ingredient called allicin. This is the same substance which is responsible for the bad breath that can result when eating garlic. Like other healthy spices, garlic was used for thousands of years in many cultures as a remedy for several ailments. Modern day research supports the theory that garlic has many health benefits due to the sulphur compounds that are released when garlic is crushed or chopped. Researchers from the University of Alabama in the UK have shown that garlic relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure when administered over 6 months at a dose of 600 – 1500 mg per day (about 4 cloves). Other studies have found garlic to be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol.
Garlic is a key ingredient in Italian food, being used to flavour pastas, pizzas, tomatoes, stir-fries, meat and poultry. It is easy and delicious to include in your diet.
Fenugreek has a powerful pungent, bittersweet flavour that is released when the small hard seeds are roasted. Fenugreek has an active compound called Trigonella foenum graecum which contains the medicinal benefits, according to studies. It has been used as a home remedy for hundreds of years to increase breast milk production, boosting testosterone function and controlling Type 2 diabetes. Modern studies show that fenugreek lowers blood sugar levels by up to 13% after 4 hours of consuming it. Fenugreek appears to slow down the absorption of glucose in the stomach and increase insulin production.
As a food, fenugreek is used in Indian cooking mainly in curry powders and for making pickles. The seeds are usually either dry-roasted to added to a little oil to release the fragrance and flavour before adding other ingredients.
Cinnamon. This common spice is well known for it’s delicious musk-like flavour. It is widely used in baking for pastries and deserts. Cinnamon contains oils which have antibiotic and anti-clotting properties. The active ingredient in cinnamon is a compound called cinnamaldehyde. This ingredient is a potent antioxidant and helps fight silent inflammation.
Studies have shown that cinnamon can help to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes by up to 29%. It is thought that it does this by improving insulin sensitivity and slowing down breakdown of carbohydrates, thus preventing glucose spikes after meals. Research has also shown that cinnamon lowers cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. To achieve the healthy benefits of this spice, you need to consume between half to two teaspoons a day.
A delicious way of including it is to spread a mixture of honey and cinnamon over your morning toast.
Whole cinnamon quills can also be used to enhance the flavour of rice dishes and curries. Try adding it to your morning cereal, in your coffee or in french toast.
Cumin has a distinctive earthy flavour and is used in Ayurvedic medicine for it’s anti-glycation properties. Results from recent clinical trials support the idea that cumin reduces AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which are responsible for deterioration of nerves and small blood vessels in people who have diabetes. Cumin contains phenols, flavanoids and alkanoids which have anti inflammatory effects. Modern studies using laboratory mice have shown cumin can lower blood sugar levels in animals with diabetes and black cumin (nigella seed) has been shown to reduce inflammation in animals with rheumatoid arthritis. One of the oldest uses of cumin is to aid digestion. Research has shown that cumin may increase the activity of digestive enzymes in the gut and also the release of bile.Cumin is also very dense in iron with 1.4 mg of iron in a teaspoon of ground cumin. Therefore cumin is a good source of iron even when used only in small amounts.
Cumin is one of the common healthy spices used in India in both seed and powder form to flavour curries and vegetable dishes.
Cloves have an active ingredient called eugenol which has antiseptic, anti inflammatory, and mild anaesthetic properties. Cloves also have Vitamin C. Cloves have long been used as a home remedy for toothaches. Recent studies support the use of cloves to promote oral health as eugenol can kill harmful bacteria. Laboratory testing done on animals show promise for cloves to help protect liver function and regulate blood sugar. However more research on humans is required before any conclusions can be drawn.
In cooking, cloves are used to flavour soups, broths and Indian curries. Cloves are also an essential ingredient in chai tea.
Black pepper is used in Ayurvedic medicine for its health benefits to help with digestion. The active ingredient in black pepper is an alkaloid called piperine. Some of the health benefits of black pepper are that it is known to aid digestion. Black pepper increases production of hydrochloric acid, increases sweating and reduces gas in the gut. In addition it is also an antioxidant and therefore has an anti inflammatory effect. One of the most important properties of piperine is it’s ability to increase absorption of nutrients within the body. However, it should be noted that 20mg bio-active piperine is required to achieve this effect.
Black pepper is universally used to season food, from meat and poultry to eggs and vegetables.
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