Sure, maybe a little spontaneity is in order to spice things up a bit—but building your spice cabinet can add a little spunk to your immunity, kick up your body’s anti-inflammatory response, and perk up your metabolism, along with adding a lovely punch of flavor to any dish! If you're looking to add a little zest to your life—start with your plate. Dried herbs and spices are chock-full of healthy compounds that bring excitement to your palate and can be utilized for better health, too. Basically, if you have a well-stocked spice cabinet, you have a well-stocked arsenal for better health.
Spices may consist of the bark, root, stem, seed, or flower of a plant, which are typically dried, and carry strong flavors and aromas. They can be added to a dish throughout the cooking process to further develop their flavors into whatever you are cooking. Many spices are high in vitamin and mineral content, are great sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients, boast antimicrobial properties, help to reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar, and even improve digestion. Using spices is a great way to supercharge your diet, add more complex flavors, and reduce the need for extra salt and sugar. Here are just a few of our favorite spices to have on hand along with some of their health benefits:
Chili Peppers: Fresh, dried, or powdered, chilies are guaranteed to add a little kick to any meal. With anti-inflammatory properties and immune-boosting properties as well, chili peppers offer the component capsaicin, which has been shown to reduce and inhibit “Chemical P,” the compound responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain. This has been found helpful for joint pain, migraines, and neuropathy. The vibrant red color of chile peppers means it is rich in beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A), which also helps lower the risk of age-related diseases such as stroke, macular degeneration, and coronary artery disease. Along with Vitamin C, your immune system gains a boost to fight off illness.
*A little secret - I keep a small container of red chili flakes in my purse so I can add some spicy pizazz to whatever I eat, even if I’m on the go.*
Turmeric: A true “super spice” with a rich, earthy, and bitter profile, the golden-hued turmeric is commonly added to many meals such as curries, stews, and even smoothies! Its most active compound, curcumin, is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Curcumin can also increase the antioxidant capacity of the body, stimulating the activity of other antioxidants while fighting off free radicals. This can be highly beneficial for both brain and heart health. Curcumin only makes up about 3% of turmeric by weight and isn’t highly bioavailable, but you can increase its bioavailability by around 2000% by consuming it along with black pepper.
Black Pepper: More than likely, you have some black pepper on hand. Piperine, the component in black pepper that makes curcumin more bioavailable, enhances the bioavailability of other important nutrients as well. It can also aid in digestion by boosting the activity of digestive enzymes.
Ginger: As most of us know, ginger is a go-to for an upset stomach and nausea. Spicy, peppery, yet sweet, ginger goes great with soups, marinades, dressings, desserts, and teas. Ginger has a calming effect on the lining of the digestive system. It also boasts anti-microbial properties which can help ward off infections. Loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds, ginger offers powerful benefits to the body and brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Cardamom: Often found in pumpkin spice mixes, cardamom is a sweet, pungent spice that can fight inflammation, ease an upset stomach, and is high in magnesium and zinc.
Some other healthy spices you may consider using are cumin, mustard powder, cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, curry, and last but not least, garlic (just to name a few!). Think of what flavor combinations would elevate your dish—experimentation is key!
Spices don’t just contribute to the flavor of food, they contribute nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants as well. With properties that fight inflammation, free radical damage, and oxidative stress—you and your taste buds will be doing a proverbial happy dance!
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