Spice Up Your Life!


By Amy Inman-Felton RDN

Health and Wellness Contributing Editor

4 Minute Read


Looking to spice up your life and health? 

Spices and herbs can take ordinary food to extraordinary!  

These superfoods add flavor, depth, spunk, richness, intensity, and sweetness – oh and did I mention they provide significant health benefits!  Spices and herbs are powerful medicinal foods.

Using spices and herbs are part of an emerging field – culinary medicine

Culinary medicine blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine

Adding these super healthy spices and herbs to your main dishes, soups, smoothies, and lattes will not only heighten the flavor but will boost your health, can reduce inflammation and even lessen age-related pain – in some cases as effective as ibuprofen!    


Consider integrating these four into your cuisine for health-boosting benefits:  

TURMERIC

Turmeric tops the list when it comes to a healthy spice!  This spice is a flowering plant in the ginger family, also referred to as Indian saffron.  Turmeric root contains a yellow-colored chemical called curcumin – the key active ingredient that gives curry its beautiful yellow color (and flavor) and potent medicinal benefits.

On average 1 teaspoon dried or freshly ground turmeric provides 200 mg of curcumin

Health benefits:  Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and a natural anti -inflammatory. Currently, being studied as a pain reliever and healing agent – particularly for osteoarthritis where small studies have found more effective than ibuprofen. 

The Arthritis Foundation suggests turmeric capsules 400 to 600 mg up to 3 times per day for inflammation relief.1

Turmeric also shows promise in preventing and treating diabetes and hyperlipidemia. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. 3,4 These are just a few of turmeric’s medicinal benefits.

Caution: Consumption of high amounts as a supplement (1,500 mg or greater) can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, cause abnormal heart rhythm, and increase blood-thinning. If you take a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin) or iron supplement for iron deficiency anemia talk to your doctor before consuming medicinal doses. Other side effects

Culinary tips for adding turmeric: 

  • Adding 1 – teaspoon freshly ground turmeric root or powder provides an average 200 mg curcumin
  • Use in curry, barbeque rub, marinades, soups, and salad dressings
  • Compliments eggs -add ½ to 1 teaspoon to scrambled eggs or frittatas
  • Add a generous dose to roasted vegetables and rice dishes
  • Toss it in chicken dishes or tuna salad
  • Bromelain in pineapples increases the absorption of curcumin so combine the two (I love to combine the two in a smoothie!)

GINGER

Super spice ginger – provides a zesty flavor and is loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds that nourish your brain and can calm your digestive system.  Ginger is a close cousin to turmeric (and cardamom) with equally as many health benefits.

The main active ingredient in the fresh ginger root is gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When the root is dried gingerol converts to shogaol with similar properties.   

Health benefits:  Ginger is best known for treating nausea (associated with morning sickness, chemotherapy, and anesthesia). Ginger reduces inflammation, relaxes muscles, and lessen menstrual cramps. 5  Benefits have been observed in osteoarthritis, regulating blood sugar and improving brain and memory function. 6,7  

Medicinal doses vary based on uses. Experts suggest 250 mg to 500 mg as effective dose limiting to no more than 1,500 mg daily to avoi side effects.

Caution: If you take medications for blood-thinning such as warfarin (Coumadin) or plan to have surgery talk to your doctor before taking. In pregnancy suggest < 1,000 mg day if used for nausea or morning sickness. Other side effects

Culinary tips for adding ginger:

  • I prefer fresh (ginger root), but also can be used dried, crystallized, or found as oil or juice
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ground ginger equals ¼ teaspoon ground dried powder in cooking (it doesn’t take much when ground)
  •  One piece of crystallized ginger provides approximately 250 mg ginger- one to two pieces (500 mg) are suggested for nausea  
  • For a milder taste add ginger at the beginning of cooking or add at the end for a stronger flavor
  • Freshly grate 1-inch ginger root into smoothies or steep in water for 10 minutes with lemon and honey for ginger tea
  • Pairs well with carrots, citrus (like lemonade), apples and apricot in soups or smoothies
  • Use in baking – think protein bites, cookies (ginger or spice cookies) or bread
  • Add to marinades along with garlic, cilantro, onion, and cumin for stir frying chicken, salmon and use in basmati rice for an Asian flavo

Cinnamon

The royal queen of sweet spice is cinnamon which comes from the inner bark of a tree.  The distinct smell and flavor are due to the oily part which is high in the compound cinnamaldehyde.

Cinnamaldehyde is thought to be responsible for the health benefits of cinnamon   

Health benefits:  Cinnamon tops the list among all spices for providing antioxidants and polyphenols. 8 This spice is best known for providing anti-inflammatory properties and reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 9 Studies also showing promise with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and even fighting the common cold.

½ to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon daily can have positive effects on lowering blood sugar, LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides while keeping HDL (good) cholesterol stable 910

Caution:  Not all cinnamon is created equal.  There are two main types of cinnamon -Cassia (most common type found in supermarkets) and Ceylon (“true cinnamon”).  Ceylon is the preferred type.  Cassia contains higher levels of coumarin -a harmful compound when consumed in high amounts. 11,12

If you take medication to lower blood sugar consult with a doctor before using higher doses of cinnamon to avoid low blood sugar. Other side effects

Culinary tips for adding cinnamon:

  • Upgrade and use organic Celyon cinnamon whenever possible    
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon provides 1 gram (g).  Studies report benefit using 1 g to 6 g daily ( equals 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons).   I suggest no more than 1 to 2 teaspoons and not every day to avoid side effects
  • Add a teaspoon to coffee in the morning or add smoothies
  • Sprinkle over fruit
  • Add to oatmeal, sweet potatoes and use in baking

Oregano

Oregano is a Mediterranean herb from the mint family and has been used for medicinal purposes and in culinary cuisines for thousands of years. This herb provides strong flavor and warmth to dishes with a bit of sweetness.

Health benefits:  Best known for being loaded with antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and fighting bacteria (including nasty E. Coli!) and viral infections like norovirus and respiratory infections. 13 

Just 1 teaspoon provides 8% of your daily vitamin K needs.  Oregano oil provides carvacrol and thymol two antioxidants that prevent damage to cells. 14,15

Caution:  Commercially prepared oregano oil is highly concentrated and is easy to take too much. Follow directions carefully on label and avoid taking it for too long to avoid detrimental effects. Experts recommend avoid if pregnant. If allergic to Lamiaceae family (mint, sage, basil or lavender) avoid.   Other side effects

Culinary tips for adding oregano:

  • My personal favorite is dried Mediterranean oregano from Dean and Deluca
  • Use fresh or dried as a versatile herb (1 tablespoon of fresh equals 1 teaspoon of dried)
  • Add oregano at the beginning of cooking so the flavor infuses with other ingredients
  • Add to vegetable or salads to up your antioxidant power of dishes
  • Amazing in soups, chilis, stews, and of course marinara

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