Spices even during ancient times are used not just for culinary uses but for medicinal purposes as well. Even back then, people already know the importance of using spices to add flavors and colors to dishes and are in fact even more revered for their health benefits.
Herbs and spices are known to contain bioactive compounds that contribute to their range of health properties. They contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, as well as properties that affect cognition and mood and lower glucose and cholesterol levels.
The popularity of their health benefits is quite evident with so many dietary supplements today that use culinary spices as an ingredient if not the main ingredient. But although health products including supplements are being regulated by FDA, it’s still best that you discussed it with your doctor first, before starting on one.
Better yet, why not consume them naturally and regularly through your daily meals? Right?
You see, incorporating herbs and spices into your diet is quite easy. It’s actually a great way to naturally boost the flavor of your food – make it more appetizing and delicious without adding too much salt. You’d be surprised at how herbs and spices can really amp the taste of your dishes! In fact, getting acquainted with different herbs and spices is a pretty good step in transitioning to a lower sodium diet.
It sure doesn’t hurt that you can deliciously eat your way to a healthier body. For instance, there are spices that may particularly help you with weight loss. So, basically losing weight while eating, pretty cool right? Who wouldn’t want that?
It really is just a matter of trying different spices or spice combinations that will make your food interesting – that is, of course, depending on your personal taste preference. It’s important, that not only are you reaping the health benefits of these herbs and spices but you’re also enjoying the flavor it adds to your food.
Learning what are the best spices for health can give you ideas on where to basically start in adding more herbs and spices into your diet.
Best Spices for Health
Cardamom comes in small pods with black seeds inside and is part of the ginger family. It has a sweet, minty, and savory taste with a rich aroma. It’s actually one of the world’s most expensive spices.
It’s rich in antioxidants and antibacterial properties. It’s used in many traditional medicines as an antispasmodic, antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, and tonic. It’s a good source of iron and manganese and is also rich in riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.
It’s commonly used in hot and spicy dishes and in desserts and can be used whole or ground. This spice is very common in many Indian curry dishes, just like this cardamom butter chicken. Expect an explosion of flavors in this dish coupled with wonderful and appetizing color, this could easily become a household favorite.
Cayenne is known for its capsaicin content – the very compound that gives peppers their heat. This chemical compound has anti-inflammatory properties, can increase metabolism, and is a key ingredient in many pain relief medications.
Cayenne is a great source of antioxidants and many plant compounds that protect cells from oxidative stress and promotes overall health. It may aid in increasing the production of digestive fluid, improving digestion, and providing the stomach extra protection against infection.
Cayenne pepper can be used in curries, stews, hummus, chilis, or for sprinkling in soups, eggs, hot chocolate, or even in homemade lemonade. This spice is widely used in Asian, Indian, Mexican, and Southern cooking. In fact, it’s quite a staple when making homemade Cajun seasoning.
Cinnamon is not only known for its beautiful flavor and aroma but for its blood sugar-lowering properties. It is also used in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for its warming qualities. Cinnamon was so precious back in the day that it was also once traded as currency.
Cinnamon has high cinnamaldehyde content. This compound is responsible for many of its health benefits. It has anti-viral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. It may also support gut health, help manage blood pressure, and may even be beneficial for an aging brain.
It’s mainly used as an aromatic condiment both in sweet and savory dishes. In the West, it’s mainly used in baking goodies while in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s mainly used in flavoring chicken and lamb. Sample this spice in action with this Cinnamon-Scented Lamp Patties recipe. This dish is quite versatile because it’ll be perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even for snacks!
Cloves were considered one of the most important (and also most expensive) spices during the Middle Ages in Europe. It’s particularly known for its strong flavor and aroma and is used sparingly in dishes. It has a subtle sweet taste with notes of bitterness and stringency.
Aside from being an excellent source of antioxidants, it also contains a particular compound called eugenol. This compound aids in reducing inflammation, lowering risk and managing symptoms of diseases like arthritis, and fighting free radicals. Cloves can also aid in thickening mucus that protects the stomach lining which in turn helps in lowering the risk of ulcers or healing existing ulcers.
Cloves are not just great for seasoning meats and enriching sauces but for spicing up baked goods as well. See if you’re going to enjoy this spice’s flavor in this chewy and spice-filled whole wheat cookie recipe, Molasses Clove Cookies.
Coriander is one of the oldest herbs and spices on record. It actually belongs in the family Apiaceae. In the US, the term coriander refers to the plant’s seeds. The leaves, on the other hand, are called cilantro. Internationally, it’s simply called coriander and simply add seeds – coriander seeds, when referring to the seeds.
Coriander is actually an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron, manganese, and magnesium. It’s also rich in vitamins C and K as well as protein. It may help in lowering blood sugar, fighting infections, and promoting the health of the gut, skin, heart, and brain.
Coriander is a great spice to use in making dry rubs, marinades, sauces, and curries. It’s commonly used in Mexican, Latin, Spanish, and Indian cuisine. Try this Green Paella and see both coriander seeds and cilantro in action.
Cumin seeds come from cumin which is a flowering plant that belongs to the carrot family. This spice is one of the basic ingredients of curry and chili powders. India is both the largest producer and the greatest consumer of cumin.
Cumin contains flavonoids that work as antioxidants. It’s also a good source of iron, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. It’s also rich in vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K. It’s good for promoting digestion and controlling blood sugar. It may also help in improving blood cholesterol, promoting weight loss and fat reduction, and preventing food-borne diseases.
This spice is commonly used not just in Indian cuisine but in Latin American, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. See if this Moroccan Couscous with roasted vegetables, chickpeas, and almonds will interest you. It’s beautifully seasoned with a spice combination that includes cumin, turmeric, and coriander.
Garlic is not only known for its distinct aroma and flavor but it’s also revered for its ability to lower bad cholesterol levels. It may even positively impact the levels of HDL or good cholesterol. It should be noted though, that garlic is not a long-term solution to your high cholesterol problems.
Garlic’s beneficial properties are mainly caused by its Allicin content. It’s also rich in phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, and vitamins C and K. Its antioxidants contents help in protecting against cell damage and aging. Garlic may also help in improving immunity, managing blood sugar levels, and supporting brain and heart health.
Eating one to two raw garlic every day may be beneficial, but if you’re not up for that strong and pungent taste then perhaps simply settle in using fresh garlic or powdered garlic when sauteing your meat, veggies, pasta, or sauces. But of course, you can always try using raw garlic like in this Thai Peanut Sauce recipe. It’s perfect not just as a dipping sauce or salad dressing, it’ll also work best when making chicken satay or peanut noodles.
First off, ginger is actually a rhizome and not a root. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family and is a close relative of turmeric and cardamom. This antioxidant-rich spice is native to Southeastern Asia.
Ginger is particularly high in gingerol. This substance has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Ginger also contains vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. It can help in preventing various types of nausea, lowering blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels, treating chronic indigestion, and may even reduce menstrual pain.
Ginger aside from cooking can also be used in teas and desserts. You'll usually find them in fresh, powdered, or candied form. Try this Asian-inspired Ginger Chicken that is not only quick to make but absolutely delish as well. The recipe calls for chicken breast, but of course, you can always substitute chicken thighs if you prefer dark meat.
Oregano is from the flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae. It’s particularly known as a great antibacterial agent. It contains thymol and carvacrol which both fights infections such as staph.
Oregano is also packed with antioxidants, fiber, manganese, iron, tryptophan, calcium, and vitamins K and E. It’s been used for centuries in herbal medicine to treat colds, diarrhea, asthma, indigestion, aching muscles, and skin sores.
It can be used in cooking, baking, or when making salads or marinades. If using dried oregano, adjust accordingly since it’s more potent than the fresh ones. Oregano actually works great with tomato-based dishes like this Savory Spaghetti Sauce recipe.
This fragrant herb is native to the Mediterranean and has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties. It was believed to strengthen memory and even used as an emblem of remembrance and fidelity in literature and folklore.
Rosemary in addition to its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, is also a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamins A, B6, and C. It’s good for boosting the immune system and improving blood circulation. Its carnosic and rosmarinic acids contents have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
Rosemary is great for flavoring soups, casseroles, salads, roasts, stews, and sauces. It can be used in fresh and dried form. For a simple and easy side dish, check out this Rosemary Roasted Potatoes. There is really something about the aroma of roasted rosemary and garlic!
Sage is also a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. It has grayish leaves with blue to purplish flowers. Aside from cooking it’s also used in smudging – a ritual involving the burning of sage to cleanse negativity.
Sage is high in antioxidants that help in reducing the risk of serious health conditions. It’s also rich in vitamins A, C, and K and also contain minerals like copper, magnesium, and zinc. Sage may also support oral health, ease menopause symptoms, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and support memory and brain health.
Sage will make for a great addition to tomato sauces, to rubs for meat, mixed into stuffing, or sprinkled as a garnish to soups. Try this roast rib of beef and see how sage holds up against the strong flavor of beef and how beautifully it pairs with garlic.
This brightly yellow-colored spice is native to South Asia. It’s a close relative of ginger but is notably milder in flavor. Turmeric also has a long and impressive history of medicinal use, in fact, in Eastern countries, turmeric dates as far back as 4,000 years.
Tumeric is particularly known for its curcumin content. This compound can potentially improve heart health, prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric can also support liver detoxification, reduce depression, regulate blood sugar levels, and prevent the buildup of cholesterol plaque in arteries.
Turmeric is very common in Indian cuisine. It can also be used when roasting vegetables, cooking rice, making soups, flavoring meat and fish, blending smoothies, or even in teas. Here’s a very simple and easy Turmeric Rice side dish that will go perfectly with roast pork, steamed fish, fried chicken, or even beef stews.