5 Healthy and Easy Spices to Try Now!
Written by Gurleen Singh and edited by Sue Rose MS, RD, LDN
Most spices are both healthy and easy to cook with. They are the backbone of both cuisine and culture. Spices impart flavor, color and excitement to food. They also form many cultural practices for spiritual and physical healing. Although some of these medicinal type properties may be chalked up to superstition, some are genuinely backed by science.
Beyond healing benefits, they are the backbone of the diverse flavors of different cultures. They mix and fuse to create all kinds of flavor combinations, giving rise to signature cultural flavor profiles. This adds fun and enjoyment, but most importantly a sense of community around foods. This level of connection to the food we eat is key in creating healthy eating habits and sustainable health benefits.
If you are looking to take your cooking, cuisine, and health to the next level, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of 5 spices and all their health benefits so you can elevate both your cooking and health!
Red Chilies are super healthy and easy to use
Red chilies are a smart choice if you want to add color, heat, and spiciness to a meal. Despite their strong connection to Indian cuisine, red chilies originated in Mexico. After their introduction to India through Portuguese traders, the use of the spice caught traction throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Health benefits of chilies
Red chilies contain a powerful antioxidant called capsaicin. Capsaicin is responsible for the decongestant properties you’ve probably felt after eating spicy foods. It’s like the second it hits your tongue, your stuffy nose and sinuses open right up. This happens because capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin can also suppress cholesterol formation in the liver, and as a strong antioxidant, it can be part of a heart healthy eating pattern! Adding this spice to your diet is also a terrific way to fight overall inflammation.
Cumin is another winner in the healthy and easy spices category
Cumin packs a unique yet versatile flavor punch of warm and earthy, plus fresh, and citrus flavors. It’s another signature spice in Indian cuisine but used worldwide. It will give any dish you use it in both a warm hardy flavor plus health benefits.
Health benefits of cumin
One of the most talked about health benefits of cumin is its ability to speed up digestion and balance cholesterol levels. Cumin contains compounds which increase bile production. The liver makes bile, and the gallbladder stores it. The bile aids in fat digestion by effectively breaking down the fats into usable forms of energy. With more bile, digestion of fatty foods will be faster, and you’ll be able to tap into that energy sooner.
Extra energy isn’t the only benefit of cumin. One study showed the cholesterol balancing effects of cumin. Consuming 3g/day of cumin improved all lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-Cholesterol, LDL-Cholesterol) and promoted weight reduction as well.
Cumin is also a source of iron. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Just one teaspoon of cumin contains almost 20% of an average adult’s daily recommended intake of iron. For those cutting down on iron-rich meat, cumin is a great spice to add to plant-based foods.
Black pepper is another of those healthy and easy spices
The benefits of pepper deserve some discussion, even though it is not as colorful or exciting as some of the other spices! Despite being right next to the saltshaker on most dinner tables, black pepper has overlooked health benefits. Some of these include anti-inflammatory properties, as well as affecting metabolism, bone health and cognitive performance.
Health benefits of black pepper
Black pepper also contains capsaicin but has even more than red chilies. The capsaicin content of black pepper has also been found to have weight loss properties. This is because it slightly increases your metabolic rate by creating heat. When capsaicin stimulates certain receptors, it creates this perception of heat. Digestion and nutrient utilization seem to speed up with this heat. Although consuming black pepper will not make up for a poor diet, it may aid weight loss with the appropriate calorie prescription.
Black pepper also contains high concentrations of manganese. Manganese is a beneficial nutrient for bone health. Considering a substantial percentage of adults suffer at least one osteoporosis related bone break in their life, a bone healthy diet is important.
Black pepper may also promote cognitive health due to a compound called piperine. Piperine has been shown to protect against neurodegeneration and mental impairment by decreasing the production of oxidative stress enzymes. This means the compound slows the rate at which neurons age, decay, and die. By increasing both dopamine and serotonin, piperine is also a mood stabilizer. So, whether it’s for the metabolic benefits, neural and mental health benefits, or if you just want to add some heat to your cooking, black pepper is an amazing spice option to keep in mind.
Versatile cinnamon is a healthy and easy spice
Throughout history, cinnamon has been used for its medicinal and healing properties. Indian traditions revere cinnamon for both taste and healing properties. Everyday dishes and iconic holiday dishes can use cinnamon. It has a bit of warmth, which lends itself to a wide range of dishes from briyani to fritters. And let’s not forget the pumpkin pie and baked apples.
Health benefits of cinnamon
Elevated blood sugar levels may benefit from cinnamon. One explanation is that it makes insulin more effective, thus increasing sensitivity to insulin. Insulin seems better equipped to transport glucose into the cells with cinnamon. Another hypothesis is that compounds in cinnamon act to mimic insulin by facilitating the transport of glucose into cells themselves. Regardless of the mechanism, the result may be beneficial for those suffering from elevated blood sugar levels.
Aside from regulating blood sugar levels, cinnamon may also benefit cardiovascular health. It seems to both lower blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk. Unlike some other spices in this list, it doesn’t achieve this by reducing the amount of cholesterol and plaque in arteries. Instead, it relaxes the blood vessels themselves. Relaxed blood vessels allow for a quick decrease in blood pressure. This can be a great quick acting treatment from those with hypertension who are experiencing an episode of high blood pressure. Despite cinnamon’s amazing effects, this is not medical advice and if you do face severe high blood pressure, it is imperative to consult a medical professional.
Turmeric also one of those healthy and easy spices
This timeless golden spice is possibly the most used and respected spice in Indian cuisine. It is used in a wide variety of dishes (including curry) and often used solely for its medicinal properties. Both popular in Indian cuisine and touted globally, it offers up a range of health benefits from improving skin disorders to fighting cancer.
Health benefits of turmeric
As a topical, turmeric has a slew of benefits. It reduces inflammation and confers antiseptic properties. This makes it a great “bandage” paste to apply to cuts and wounds as it can speed up the healing process and fight bacteria. Turmeric may also increase collagen to promote thicker and more elastic skin while speeding up the generation of new tissue. Using turmeric as a face mask or in other skin care products can reduce fine lines and promote thickness and elasticity of your skin!
Beyond skin, turmeric has repeatedly been shown to reduce the chances of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. It achieves this through a compound called curcumin (different from cumin). Curcumin has been found to have neuroprotective properties in many animal trials thus slowing the rate at which cognitive functions decline. Additionally, some studies have even found that curcumin from turmeric may stimulate growth of stem cells in the brain. This would mean that turmeric doesn’t just protect old brain cells but may also make new ones.
Curcumin may also offer protection against cancer. Curcumin has been seen in clinical trials to reduce the chances of forming cancer by decreasing the size of cancerous tumors. It may also block blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors, thereby starving those tumors. This isn’t to say turmeric is the cure to cancer, but it may be a good adjunct treatment for some individuals depending on the severity and type of cancer. Despite the evidence, larger clinical trials are needed to better understand how curcumin works against cancer. Never embark on self-treatment and always consult your health care team with any cancer treatment plan or diet!
Take away on healthy and easy spices
Despite being great for flavor, color, and excitement in your food, spices are so much more. Spices can be an essential part of healthy eating and have withstood the centuries’ long medicinal property claims. So next time your meal prepping, we hope you try incorporating some of these healthy and easy spices into your cuisine. You will raise the bar on both your palette and your health!
Use this information at your own risk. Although I am a licensed IL dietitian/nutritionist, I am not your dietitian. The information in my blog Chew on This located at www.mydietmatters.com is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also my own opinion and subject to change in the future. Please consult with your own medical professionals for individual treatment.