Walk into an Indian restaurant and the aroma of delicious spices is irresistible: Cumin, curry, and cardamom tempt your senses. The same thing happens in most restaurants from around the world: At Mexican it’s the mixture of chilies and cilantro, whereas in Middle Eastern restaurants you get a blend of coriander, nutmeg, and harissa chili paste make your mouth start watering.
In contrast, Western food is bland compared to these traditional ethnic dishes, mainly due to lack of spices.
Spices don’t just make delicious, aromatic meals. They contain polyphenols, which are widely known for their antioxidant properties that exert protective biological effects, improving metabolic function, countering inflammation, and even alleviating pain in different parts of the body.
In fact, it’s possible that one reason populations that still eat their traditional diets don’t have the high levels of chronic disease and obesity we see in the West is due to the range of spices and herbs in their cooking.
Here are five delicious spices to add to your nutrition that have health benefits:
Cinnamon is a powerful anti-diabetic spice, improving the sensitivity of your cells to insulin for easier blood sugar regulation. It is also a great nutrient partitioner, which means that it diverts nutrients to be stored as glycogen (the source of fuel in the muscle) rather than as fat. Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory effects and has been found to boost brain function and cognition due to better blood sugar use.
Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory, pain-killing compound curcumin, which has been shown to protect your metabolism by improving enzymes involved in fat burning for greater metabolic flexibility. Curcumin is also known for accelerating the clearance of toxins and waste products from alcohol use.
Fenugreek is useful for diabetics and anyone interested in improving blood sugar because it mimics insulin. Fenugreek acts at the insulin receptor level to remove sugar from the blood so that it can be used for energy. Tightly managing blood sugar is necessary because anytime you have high blood sugar levels, glycation occurs, which causes inflammation and damages the protein structure that makes up skin and tissue, leading to premature aging.
Ginger is sweet, spicy, and abundant in anti-inflammatory effects that are therapeutic for the stomach, the joints, and supportive of the body’s internal antioxidant system. It can also lower inflammation and may reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Cloves have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, making clove oil a great tool for treating infections and tooth problems. Cloves have also been shown to have anti-aging effects on skin. Cloves improve the protein matrix in collagen, which is what helps skin maintain its tightness and avoid sagging or wrinkles. Cloves are also packed with antioxidants, which will scavenge free radicals and lower risk of cancer and heart problems.
Opara, E., Chohan, M. Culinary Herbs and Spices: Their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing Their True Health Benefits. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2014. 15, 19183-19202.