Do spices offer any health benefits?

by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

This article was originally published in December 2012

Adding a pinch of spice can transform an ordinary dish, such as rice or oatmeal, into something exotic and flavorful. That same small pinch of spice also will transform your health if you make it a daily habit.

Spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are the richest sources of dietary antioxidants, offering more than even blueberries and acai berries. Spices also offer unique nutrients not found in other foods, many of which are being researched for their protective properties.

Adding just 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to your daily diet improves blood sugar regulation, beneficial for preventing (and treating) diabetes. Cinnamon also provides unique antioxidants, improves circulation, and contains anti-bacterial compounds. All forms of cinnamon (cassia and Ceylon) offer similar health benefits.

Ginger is a well-known digestive aid that relieves all forms of nausea. Less known is how ginger can help relieve the pain of arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. Ginger also is a popular home remedy to reduce symptoms of the cold and flu. Fresh ginger provides the greatest therapeutic benefit, but dried/powdered gingers also provide relief.

Ginger’s cousin, turmeric (a fellow rhizome), is the yellow spice that provides the characteristic color of curry powders. This spice is well researched for its role in reducing inflammation, so it is often recommended to ease the symptoms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and even Multiple Sclerosis. Turmeric also can reduce cancer risk and improve liver detoxification. Newer research suggests that it may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease — it truly is a magical food.

Supplements of many common spices are becoming more popular as doctors and the medical community better understand their amazing health benefits. Supplements certainly have their place, but a far more economical approach is to get in the habit of adding spice to your foods each day — in your hot breakfast cereal, pancakes or eggs; in marinades, sauces and rubs; in your baking; or sprinkled atop your next vegetable sauté. Another happy benefit: Adding spice to your cooking can help to reduce your sodium intake because you won’t have to add as much salt to create enjoyable flavor.

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