In the battle to find a healthy balance between eating food that’s good for you and food that tastes great, you have a secret weapon: your spice rack. To avoid the temptation of foods loaded with sugars, salt, and/or fats, a well-stocked spice rack and kitchen pantry can give you a serious advantage. Why is this such a big deal? Because giving in to the temptation to eat less-than-healthy food isn’t just about the pounds on your stomach—it can also lead to serious health problems down the line.
The following five spices should already be an essential part of your kitchen arsenal. They will not only help you enjoy healthy food with great taste but also help your body function at a higher level. If you don’t have them, make sure to stock up soon!
One of the most famous spices, cinnamon is especially popular in various sugar-coated pastries. But desserts aside, cinnamon may actually offer several health benefits. While more research needs to be done, here are just some of the perks that studies have uncovered thus far:
- Reduces inflammation – In a recent study of 115 foods, it was discovered that cinnamon ranks high in fighting inflammation. By upping your cinnamon intake (in your tea or coffee, for example), you could potentially help your body fight off diseases that tend to affect people later in life, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Lowers cholesterol – In a small study of sixty adults, participants who ingested a ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon for forty days had lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol at the end of the study. Other studies show that an eighteen-week regimen of cinnamon not only lowered LDL but also lowered total cholesterol and raised HDL (“good” cholesterol).
- Fights bacteria – Cinnamon is no friend to bacteria. Studies have shown that cinnamon fights multiple kinds of harmful bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, and even staph. However, more research is needed to see just how much cinnamon can aid in fighting infections.
Another spice known primarily for its use in sweet treats, cocoa is more than just a main ingredient in candy. We’ve been using cocoa in powder form for medicinal reasons as far back as the 16th century. The benefits of cocoa are thanks to what modern science now calls flavanols, of which it has plenty. Here are some of the health impacts associated with unsweetened cocoa:
- Lowers your blood pressure – In powder form (and even in a dark chocolate bar), cocoa has been observed to increase nitric oxide levels in the blood. This helps the vessels function better and results in reduced blood pressure. However, because cocoa loses a significant amount of flavanols when it’s processed, the health benefits of milk chocolate, for example, are much lower than for dark chocolate.
- Protects your heart – Because of the impact that flavanol-rich cocoa has on the circulatory system and with lowering blood pressure, it also may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Protects your brain – The same flavanols that may improve the flow of blood through your body (lowering your blood pressure and easing the strain on your heart), may also help with the pressure and quality of blood flow around your brain. Studies have found that a daily intake of quality cocoa can even improve brain function in the elderly.
While technically part of the onion family, the white, blub-shaped vegetable known as garlic does much more than ward off vampires. (Although the smell when you cut, crush, or peel one of the cloves might also repel any help in the kitchen.) Garlic is one of the earliest domesticated crops, as shown by evidence of going back to ancient Egypt. For most of human history, garlic has been associated with keeping disease at bay.
- Promotes general good health – From the allicin (the antibacterial oil that gives garlic that strong, sulfur-like smell) to the forty-plus other compounds (including arginine, oligosaccharides, selenium, and flavonoids) in this particular spice, garlic is packed with a combination of factors that promote good health.
- Combats illness – Supplements featuring garlic are known to help boost the body’s immune system. One study concluded that garlic could even prevent the common cold
by 63 percent in a control group that used a daily garlic supplement (versus a group using just placebo).
You might be surprised to learn that ginger can do more than just calm an upset stomach or battle nausea. This versatile spice made from a root can be added to almost anything to provide a host of health benefits:
- Confounds bacteria – Besides the bacteria in your digestive system that ginger can target, the gingerol compounds that you ingest will also go to work against many kinds of bacteria in your mouth, helping fight gum diseases and even bad breath.
- Alleviates menstrual pain – In a 2009 study, 150 female participants who took one gram of ginger powder per day for the first three days of their menstrual period reported that their pain was reduced as effectively by the ginger as by over-the-counter drugs.
If you’re familiar with curry, you may know what gives it that yellow color—turmeric, a spice that’s been used in both cooking and medicine in India for thousands of years. Modern scientists have analyzed turmeric and realized that its main active compound, curcumin, can be a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
However, the content of curcumin in turmeric is only 3 percent, and it’s not absorbed all that well by the human body. But if you eat regular black pepper with curcumin, the rate of absorption goes all the way up to 2,000 percent (yes, two thousand), thanks to the existence of piperine in the pepper.
Spices Do More than Make Your Food Taste Better
By increasing your use of these five spices in your everyday life—whether you take them as supplements or use them as ingredients in recipes and beverages—you can combat all kinds of threats to your health, from a simple stomachache to heart disease or stroke. These spices, all available in your favorite grocery store, contain vital compounds that can not only help improve your health today but also prevent a scare in the future.
Images from Pixabay.