There are plenty of healthy foods to choose from, but what about healthy spices? Spices don’t just improve the taste of your food—they also have serious health benefits! Whether you’re suffering from disease or perfectly healthy, these five spices can improve your health and your cooking.
These little peppers are popular all over the world. They are typically dried and powdered in the West, while used whole or crushed in many parts of Asia. Like other hot peppers, cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which has numerous health properties. Its fiery flavor will open and clear clogged nasal and sinus passages in the event of a cold, sinus infection, or allergies. Capsaicin is also an inhibitor of a neuropeptide associated with inflammation, and is being studied as a possible treatment for pain from sensory nerve fiber disorders, such as arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. However, it’s best not to rub it directly on the body, as the capsaicin can irritate skin.
Cayenne and other hot peppers can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Cayenne peppers have antibiotic properties, and surprisingly have been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of stomach ulcers by stimulating the secretion of protective juices. The cayenne pepper is high in several vitamins and nutrients, but because it is consumed in such small amounts, its dietary contributions are negligible.
This tasty herb contains several phytonutrients that function as powerful antioxidants, which prevent oxidation and can reduce the risk of cancer. (Oxidation is cellular damage caused by oxygen, which can lead to cancer.) Volatile oils in oregano have antibacterial properties, which is why oil of oregano is a popular item in health food stores. Oregano can be found fresh or dried in any food store, and is a popular seasoning on pizza, in omelets, and in oil-based dips for bread.
There are more than 100 varieties of cinnamon, but the two most popular are Ceylon and Cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is sweeter and more popular in many parts of the world, while Cassia is cheaper and much more abundant in the United States. Both types of cinnamon have similar health properties. Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde, which helps prevent unwanted blood clotting. This can promote circulation and reduce risk for blood clots, which can cause strokes, heart attacks, and pulmonary embolisms. Cinnamon is a powerful antimicrobial, and can extend the life (and improve the flavor) of many foods by blocking the growth of fungus and bacteria.
Type 2 diabetics can greatly benefit from cinnamon’s ability to help regulate blood sugar, as cinnamon improves the body’s ability to respond to insulin. By improving the insulin response, the body is able to more easily absorb and use glucose (sugar) from the blood, resulting in more normal blood sugar levels. Cinnamon has also been demonstrated to help prevent insulin resistance and reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood. Furthermore, it’s a potent antioxidant, and some researchers believe that cinnamon’s scent can boost brain function.
This tasty flavoring doesn’t just make your breath minty fresh. It contains rosmarinic acid, which can reduce inflammation and help with asthma. Breathing the scent of peppermint can clear clogged nasal and sinus passages. Peppermint oil is antimicrobial, and may also reduce the risk of several cancers. Peppermint also has the ability to relax smooth muscle tissues, and can be beneficial for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and muscle spasms in the digestive tract.
After years of being served as nothing more than garnish on restaurant plates, parsley has gained a bad rap as a useless decorative plant. Few people are aware that despite its lack of strong flavor, parsley has real health benefits. It’s a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin A. Parsley is also a good source of folic acid, an important B vitamin that can help reduce the risks of heart disease and atherosclerosis, as well as promote healthy cell division. Just 30 grams (half a cup) of parsley contains more than 50% of your daily vitamin C, which can prevent osteoarthritis, and more than 500% of your daily vitamin K, which plays an important role in bone health and blood clotting.