Spice Things Up
They say that variety is the spice of life, but the truth is that a variety of spices might be the key to a healthy life. Evidence shows us that cultures that tend to use abundant spices and herbs in their cooking experience less occurrence of chronic health conditions and lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Nature provides a bounty of delicious, healthy spices that not only add excitement and character to your culinary creations but also keep your body and complexion healthy and vibrant. There is so much information out there about healthy spices and herbs that it can make your head spin. A quick search might leave you feeling like you have just landed yourself in the middle of an epic battle of seasonings. For the sake of simplicity, and sanity, I have narrowed it down to eight of the healthiest widely available spices and herbs.
Turmeric is the spice responsible for the exotic, rich yellow color of curry powder. This spice has been a staple of Indian cuisine and herbal medicine boxes for thousands of years. What is it about turmeric that makes it such a powerful healing spice? Turmeric contains multiple medicinal and therapeutic compounds, the most valuable of which is curcumin.
On its own, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant. Not only does it fight off damage caused by oxidative stress, it also helps to boost the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes. One of the major threats to our health today is low-level, chronic inflammation which is a precursor to almost every common disease in the western world, including diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Turmeric contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight chronic inflammation on a molecular level. The list of potential benefits of turmeric is incredibly long. Some of the most encouraging research suggests that turmeric, when applied topically, can be helpful in treating certain types of skin cancer.
There is some debate as to whether the amount of curcumin available in the typical amount of turmeric that might be used in cooking is enough to provide benefits. Experts say that it is best to enjoy a turmeric/curcumin combo. Consider taking concentrated curcumin supplements to receive the greatest benefit, and then enjoy the exotic, rich health boost of turmeric in a variety of your culinary creations including sauces, soups, eggs and even breakfast smoothies.
You can easily recognize fresh ginger root in your produce section. It is those loose pieces of root that look like a combination of a small woodsy plant and the finger or toes of a tree person. Despite its odd appearance, ginger root is one of the most healing spices in the world. Ginger root is packed with nutrients, minerals, bioactive compounds and antiaging antioxidants.
If you suffer from chronic skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, you may want to explore the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory combination that ginger offers. If your skin symptoms arise as a result of hormonal disruptions, such as those associated with your menstrual cycle, you might be interested in knowing that ginger can calm menstrual cramps and reduce muscle pain and soreness. Ginger is probably best known for countering even the worst of nausea and upset stomachs, but it is capable of so much more including fighting arthritis, reducing blood sugar, lowering elevated cholesterol and even offering protection against Alzheimer’s disease.
Aren’t sure what to do with fresh ginger root? Chop a little up and steep it in a cup of hot water or tea. You can also add it to any fresh fruit or vegetable juice concoction. Ginger has a natural spicy sweetness that is almost a little citrusy. It works great in brothy soups, stir-frys and chicken dishes.
When I think of cinnamon, the first thing that comes to mind is the unmistakable smell of baked goods wafting through the air. As much as I love cinnamon rolls, cinnamon spice cookies, and cinnamon bread, it is difficult to convince anyone of the health benefits of something so decadent, so I will concentrate on just the spice itself instead.
Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants, such as polyphenols, that protect your skin and your body from oxidative damage. One study that compared the antioxidant levels of twenty-six different spices put cinnamon as the clear winner with a large lead over all other spices including other antioxidant powerhouses such as garlic and oregano. Just one teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains half the antioxidants of an entire cup of blueberries.
Cinnamon also has antibacterial properties and has been proven to be useful in fighting both bacterial and fungal infections. Add to this that it is an anti-inflammatory, mood booster, memory enhancer and cancer fighter -- plus it brings a natural, rosy glow to your cheeks. Cinnamon is a spice that will warm you up and leave you feeling great from the inside out. There are no limits of the ways that you can use cinnamon. Sprinkle it on anything and everything including coffee, tea, hot cocoa, cereal, yogurt, fruit, bread, smoothies, sauces, and soups.
We all know that peppermint is the quintessential breath-freshening herb, but if you think that peppermint is meant only for toothpaste, gum or candy canes it is time to rethink your perception of this super healthy herb. The concept of peppermint as a medicinal herb is nothing new. There is carbon dating evidence that suggests peppermint was used therapeutically as far back as 1,000 B.C.
Peppermint is an antiseptic with antibacterial properties that has been used for treating inflamed, irritated skin conditions. It also serves a dual purpose in mouthwashes and toothpaste. Peppermint inhibits biofilm formations that are connected to the formation of dental cavities. A little peppermint can have your skin looking great and your smile brighter and healthier than ever.
One of the most well-touted benefits of peppermint is its anti-nausea properties. Whether nausea is a result of the stomach flu, morning sickness or medications including chemotherapy, peppermint helps to soothe the stomach, calm queasiness and ease digestive cramping. Of all of the healing herbs, peppermint may be the most multipurpose. Aside from fighting infections and supporting dental and digestive health, peppermint can be used to treat stress-induced headaches and anxiety attacks.
Try brewing a cup of tea by steeping dried peppermint leaves or pre-blended peppermint tea in hot water for several minutes. Fresh or dried peppermint can also be added to fresh salads, smoothies, and even soups or sauces.
A few years back, rosemary became a popular natural addition to many types of personal care products such as shampoos, relaxing bath salts and soothing lotions. While the scent of rosemary is refreshing and herbaceous in a delicate, pleasant way, its sudden storm onto the market had as much to do with its purported healing properties as it did with its intoxicating scent.
Rosemary is high in vitamin A and vitamin C, making it an excellent anti-aging and skin soothing herb. It also contains carnosol and carnosic acid, two major players in the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory game. If you are looking to purge your body of an unhealthy buildup of toxins, Rosemary is an excellent detoxifying agent. It is a mild diuretic which can help flush toxins, pathogens, and excess fat from your system all while soothing and supporting your liver.
Rosemary maintains more of its inherent healthful properties when it has not been exposed to the heat of cooking. It is best to use rosemary as a final spice addition or garnish. Rosemary can also be steeped in warm, not hot, water to make a healthy and tasty infusion. Rosemary essential oil and rosemary poultices are also popular options for topical applications.
Do you like things a little spicy? Cayenne pepper packs a powerful punch in both flavor and health benefits. This hot little number contains over forty percent of the daily recommendation of vitamin A in just one teaspoon. Granted, you probably don’t want to go around swallowing teaspoons of the stuff, however, the only limits on ways to use cayenne are within your own imagination.
Cayenne pepper contains capsicum which is an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and a natural detoxifier. Cayenne pepper promotes healthy circulation and helps to balance an overly acidic body. Overall, cayenne pepper supports your health by boosting your immune system, aiding in digestion, relieving pain and enhancing metabolism. If this isn’t enough, research shows that cayenne pepper might be useful in treating certain forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer, by inhibiting the growth of active cancer cells and preventing the formation of new tumors.
You can get your daily dose of cayenne from adding the fresh peppers to your diet, or by seasoning with the dry, powdered version found in your grocer’s spice aisle. If you don’t care for too much heat, try adding just a little bit to different foods and drinks throughout the day. In small amounts, it is barely detectable, especially when paired with luscious, sweet fruit such as pineapple or mangoes.
Parsley’s reputation as a garnish has interfered with its recognition of being a powerful, healing herb. Although you might not have ever nibbled on the sprig that accompanies your dish or noticed the flavor of the few leaves that were sprinkled over that rich pasta dish, parsley has an amazing flavor profile when allowed to stand on its own. What’s more, parsley contains high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, flavonoids and volatile oil components, including myristicin and limonene, which have been shown to fight oxidative damage and inhibit tumor formation. Parsley can also help build up your immune system, protect kidney health, fight inflammation and is a useful dietary additive if you experience anemia.
If you are only using parsley to add some color to your plate, you are missing an incredible opportunity to experience the healthy benefits of this herb. Try making a chimichurri sauce or grain salad that contains a few chopped handfuls of this jade-colored gem. You can also add it to pesto, green salads, smoothies or brew a refreshing, light tasting tea which is especially delightful when paired with a little lemon balm or lemon zest.
If you are looking for a spice that is truly beautifying, look no further than paprika. Paprika is a luscious spice that comes in varieties from mildly sweet to smokey and spicy. It is rich in vitamins A and C, and is useful in fighting free radical damage that can lead to premature aging. Paprika also combats common skin woes such as discoloration by restricting melanin production and naturally brightens and restores a glowing complexion when applied as a natural face mask mixed with a little honey.
Explore the different flavors and varieties of paprika in your cooking. Add just a bit to almost any dish to tap into health benefits such as cardiovascular protection, eye health, lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation and even more restful sleep. The next time you are relaxing with a therapeutic facial or body mask, mix in a little of one of the milder versions of paprika to help treat acne, dryness, and discolorations.
Using herbs and spices is one of the simplest and most natural ways to improve your health and beauty. There is never a reason to shy away from trying a new spice or to avoid going a little overboard the next time you walk past a display of fresh fragrant spices and herbs. Spice things up a little and live a happier, healthier, more flavorful life.