When thinking about spices, the first thoughts that come to mind are bright colors, strong aromas and a distinctive tastes. But, the same spices that make a meal tastier and more attractive can also benefit health and wellness. Here, we explore the many health benefits and uses of kitchen spices.
While there are more than 100 varieties of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon and the less-expensive Cassia cinnamon are among the most popular. Nutritionally, cinnamon provides calcium, fiber and manganese (1). Manganese, which supports strong bones, connective tissues and sex hormones, is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, which helps neutralize free radicals (1). In addition, cinnamon has been studied for its use as a blood sugar support tool. Researchers say it slows the release of sugar in the bloodstream and can add sweetness to foods and drinks, helping to cut down on the amount of sugar used and the glycemic load (2). Cinnamon may also serve as a natural food preservative (2).
Ginger’s root-like stem, called rhizome, contains oils and phenol compounds, such as gingerols and shogaols, which are rich sources of antioxidants. Ginger is well known to help those experiencing nausea and vomiting from motion sickness or chemotherapy (3). To take advantage of this property, liquid ginger can be combined with tea and a bit of honey or lemon to bring out a sweeter taste (4).
When using ginger for meals, the fresh root has more flavor than dried, so add half at the beginning of cooking and the rest at the end to bring out the complexity of your dish and enhance its flavor (5).
While fresh cayenne pepper can be used similarly to fresh jalapeños in dips, sauces and main courses, dried cayenne pepper is more versatile and works as well as fresh peppers in most dishes (6). For those using fresh cayenne peppers for the first time, remove the seeds with gloves to lessen their spiciness. A few studies suggest cayenne peppers and cayenne supplements can help support satiety and a balanced immune system. This may be due in part to capsaicin, the ingredient responsible for cayenne pepper’s spiciness. Capsaicin reduces the levels of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. When there is less substance P, fewer pain signals reach the brain (7).
Dried, powdered and fresh cayenne pepper can be added to meat, pastas, eggs and veggies. Start with a small amount, then work up to a spicy-kick that can be handled (8).
Garlic is an excellent source of manganese, and provides vitamin-B6, vitamin C and selenium and also supports iron metabolism (9). To achieve the most benefits from garlic, when preparing for consumption, studies suggest selecting fresh, raw cloves. Try letting cloves rest for 10 minutes after being chopped, sliced or mashed to allow beneficial allicin to form (10). Allicin is formed from allinase, an enzyme that is released when garlic cloves are manipulated. When allicin breaks down, organosulfur compounds are formed. These organosulfur compounds decreased cholesterol synthesis by hepatocytes and inhibited platelet aggregation in lab studies as well as inhibited the activity of the inflammatory enzymes cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase, have antibacterial and antifungal properties and more (11).
When using turmeric as a culinary spice, choose dried turmeric rather than curry powder for the highest concentration of curcumin (12). Curcumin, the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color, is well known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (12). Studies suggest curcumin may lower the levels of enzymes that cause inflammation and prevent platelets from clumping. In one study, turmeric worked as well as ibuprofen for reducing osteoarthritis pain.
For consumers looking to obtain curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties but have never tried the spice, start by adding a teaspoon or two to a pot of soup or stew to disperse the flavor, otherwise the spice may taste bitter (13). Once your palate develops, turmeric powder can be used to season chicken as a rub, as a tea or mixed with salad dressings. For a more versatile approach, peel or mince the root of turmeric and cook it with side dishes such as vegetables or potatoes.
All parts of fennel can be eaten, including the bulb, seeds and leaves. The bulb can be consumed raw, added to soups or used in salads. The leaves can also be added to meals such as fish or if dried, sprinkled on top of desserts (14). The seeds, which are best cooked when green in color, are commonly used for baked goods (14). As for fennel’s nutritional value, the most important property might be anethole, a component in fennel and an important immune health ingredient. A possible reason why is that it prevents the activation of NF-kappaB, a gene-altering, inflammation-triggering molecule (15).
Pink Himalayan sea salt is a natural source of sodium, which helps to regulate water balance, supports muscle and nerve function, keeps the circulatory system functioning properly, helps regulate blood pressure and protects against blood clotting (16). Despite the need for sodium, excessive amounts can lead to complications such as high blood pressure. Himalayan salt has also been reported to contain 84 naturally occurring trace elements and it can be used to season meats, seafood, vegetables and eggs. WF
Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2016
- Mercola, “What Is Cinnamon Good For?” http://foodfacts.mercola.com/cinnamon.html, accessed June 10, 2016
- Draxe, “Health Benefits of Cinnamon and Nutrition Facts,” http://draxe.com/health-benefits-cinnamon/, accessed June 10, 2016
- University of Maryland Medical Center, “Ginger,” June 22, 2015, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger, accessed June 10, 2016
- Draxe, “10 Medicinal Ginger Health Benefits,” http://draxe.com/10-medicinal-ginger-health-benefits/ accessed June 10, 2016
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Ginger,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03469/Cooking-With-Spices-Ginger.html, accessed June 10, 2016
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Cayenne Pepper,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03463/Cooking-With-Spices-Cayenne-Pepper.html, accessed June 10, 2016
- University of Maryland Medical Center, “Cayenne,” June 22, 2015, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/cayenne, accessed June 10, 2016
- Draxe, “Cayenne Pepper Benefits Your Gut, Heart & Beyond,” http://draxe.com/cayenne-pepper-benefits, accessed June 10, 2016
- The George Matelijan Foundation, “Garlic,” http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=60, accessed June 10, 2016
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Garlic,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03486/Cooking-With-Spices-Garlic.html, accessed June 10, 2016
- Higdon, Ph.D., V. Drake, Ph.D., L. Lawson, Ph.D., “Garlic and Organosulfur Compounds,” http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/garlic, accessed June 10, 2016
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Turmeric,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03492/Cooking-With-Spices-Turmeric.html
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Turmeric,” http://www.drweilblog.com/home/2012/5/19/4-health-benefits-of-turmeric.html
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Fennel,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03468/Cooking-With-Spices-Fennel.html
- Mercola, “What Is Fennel Good For?” http://foodfacts.mercola.com/fennel.html, accessed June 10, 2016
- Weil, “Cooking With Spices: Salt,” http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03499/Cooking-With-Spices-Salt.html
- Mercola, “The 13 Amazing Health Benefits of Himalayan Crystal Salt, the Purest Salt on Earth,” http://products.mercola.com/himalayan-salt, accessed June 10, 2016