Spice up your healthy eating this spring

Spices have been used medicinally for thousands of years and today science is just beginning to discover the benefits they can have on our health and the power they hold as weapons against illness. Many common herbs and spices can offer protection against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Some curb inflammation, others are loaded with polyphenols and antioxidants and all add bags of flavour to our food. You could even cut the amount of fat, salt and sugar in your diet by seasoning your meals with herbs and spices.

Which spices should you use?

We've rounded up a few of the healthiest spices and we'll give you a few ideas to incorporate them into your diet.


May help:

Reduce inflammation and inhibit tumour growth

Goes well with:

Curry powder, cumin, citrus, garlic

Turmeric has long been used in India as a paste applied to wounds to speed healing. It's also commonly made into a tea and used as cold and flu relief. Tumeric contains a compound called curcumin which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies are underway to investigate the spice's potential to manage diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and heart conditions. Already, research has shown that curcumin could help to suppress the enzymes which activate carcinogens (1).

Use it:

Try mixing 1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric with a cup of Greek yoghurt as a healthy dip or spread for wraps. Add some turmeric to the cooking water when making rice or sprinkle on egg salad.


May help:

Tackle painful arthritis, soothe tummy upsets

Goes well with:

Soy sauce, garlic, chilli

Ginger is packed with powerful anti-inflammatory compounds like gingerols; it's thought these could fight some cancers as well as reducing arthritis pain. Ginger has traditionally been used to relieve stomach upsets and colds.

Use it:

Add ginger to stir fries, grate it into sauces and dressings or steep some grated ginger in hot water with honey and lemon to relieve a stomach upset or cold.


May help:

Relieve PMS symptoms and boost mood

Goes well with:

Garlic, onion, tomatoes, rice, shellfish

Saffron is the world's most expensive spice and has been traditionally used in Persia as a medicinal tea to lift mood for thousands of years. Research carried out by Tehran University of Medical Sciences revealed that saffron could be used to help relieve PMS and depression. 75% of women who took saffron capsules daily reported a 50% reduction in PMS symptoms, compared to 8% of women who didn't take the spice (2).

Use it:

Saffron can be used in cooking water when preparing rice (just a pinch!) or to add flavour and colour to tomato sauce. It can also be used in baking and is a commonly used ingredient in paella.


May help:

Stabilise blood sugar

Goes well with:

Fruit, nuts, chocolate, nutmeg, allspice, cloves

Did you know that the Ancient Greeks and Romans prized cinnamon for its ability to boost appetite, also using it for indigestion relief? Studies suggest that adding up to a tsp of cinnamon a day to your food could help beneift those with type 2 diabetes. The spice can lower blood-sugar spikes which occur after meals and help to control blood sugar.

Use it:

Sprinkle cinnamon on top of your latte or cappucino, or top your morning porridge or Greek yoghurt with a little. It's also great on French toast!


May help:

Boost metabolism

Goes well with:

Beans, beef, chocolate, ginger

Chillis are used to amp up the spice level in food and can range from mild to super-fiery! In hot climates, chillies are prized for their ability to cool the body down. Past research has shown that the compound capsaicin, found in hot chillies, can boost metabolism which could lead to increased fat burning. Even milder chilli powders such as paprika contain capsinoids, which have a similar effect on the metabolism. Chillies could also reduce your risk of developing stomach ulcers and prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from clogging your arteries.

Use it:

Add sliced (de-seeded) chillies to stir-fries or use paprika to season meat or in hearty bean stews. Why not try dusting some sweet potato wedges with chilli powder before roasting in the oven?


May help:

Soothe your stomach and counter acidity

Goes well with:

Hot chocolate, milk, curries

Cardamom has been used to soothe stomachs since ancient times. According to Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom helps make fatty food more digestible and less acidic. It contains the phytochemical cineole renowned for its antiseptic properites. Cardamom can also be used to help heal sore throats and tackle bad breath.

Use it:

Add the pods to cooking liquid for rice as an accompaniment to Middle Eastern or Indian food. Powdered cardamom is used to give Chai Latte its distinctive flavour and it can also be added to tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as in baking - try adding some to muffins, cookies or coffee cake.


May help with:

Protecting the body from free radicals

Goes well with:

Cinnamon, ginger, Christmas baked goods, oatmeal

Cloves are a powerful spice - they're packed with anxtioxidants and according to a study published in the Nutrition Journal in 2010, cloves contain the most antioxidants of all herbs and spices. They're really versatile and are often used to add flavour to Christmas drinks and dishes.

Use them:

Cloves can be used instead of ginger or cinnamon and they taste great in baked goods like cookies, bread and muffins. They're also nice with porridge or try studding an orange segment with cloves and using it to flavour winter cocktails.

The key to using spices in your cooking is to experiment with just a little and add them according to taste; you'll soon find you can cut back on salt and sugar and rely on spices to flavour your favourite dishes - and you can build up your spice rack gradually until you have all your favourites to hand!

READ THIS NEXT: Salt - how harmful is it to your health?

Works cited:

  1. http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/8_of_the_worlds_healthiest_spices?page=4
  2. http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/8_of_the_worlds_healthiest_spices?page=8

Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 12th Mar 2015 at 11:38

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