Most of us think of spices as merely something that makes our food taste good. But there is more to the inside of the kitchen cabinet than many might think. Some of the flavorings not only please the tastebuds but have serious benefits for the rest of the body. Practicioners of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine have used spices as part of treatments for centuries. That’s why today we will look at some seasoning agents and what they can do for us.
Cinnamon: This fragrant brown powder is a real powerhouse. Besides being a great source of manganese, it acts anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. For people with type 2 diabetes and for those looking to lose weight, cinnamon’s positive influence on blood sugar and insulin activity might be cause for celebration. The spice prolongs the time food spends inside the stomach, thereby preventing sugar spikes in the bloodstream. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also acts as a bloodthinner and prevents clotting. Be careful not to consume more than 1,5 teaspoonfuls per day though, otherwise you might be looking at a too-much-of-a-good-thing type of situation (“So I’m not supposed to bleed from my ears and nose?”).
How to enjoy it: Put a dash or two into your coffee instead of sugar, drizzle it over your morning oatmeal or use it to spice up some Indian-style curry.
Ginger: The root from Asia is a go-to buddy when it comes to digestive and gastrointestinal distress. It relieves cramps, gas and nausea, which also makes it a good treatment against travel sickness. Besides that, it has powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so much that it might be useful for people suffering from arthritis. As a bonus, it also inhibits tumor growth for certain types of cancer. While all of this holds true for ginger, there are no signs that sporty, scary, posh or baby have the same effect.
How to enjoy it: A simple and delicious form of consumption is ginger tea. It’s as easy as cutting a chunk of the root into small pieces and pouring hot water on it. Let it steep for a few minutes. Voilá.
Turmeric: Yellow and truly remarkable. Coming from Chinese and Indian systems of medicine, turmeric works as an anti-inflammatory, especially for the digestive tract. It also fights free radicals, offers help for rheumatoid arthritis and aids in the prevention of different kinds of cancer. What’s more, it improves liver function for detox and provides cardiovascular protection through lowering cholesterol. Oh yeah, it might also protect against a number of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
How to enjoy it:Since the spice is traditionally used in curries you can opt for just that. It also goes well with potatoes or cauliflower. Or put a teaspoonful into a cup, pour hot water on it and drink it as a sort of tea.
Cayenne pepper: Besides high amounts of pro-vitamin A, cayenne pepper also contains vitamins E, C, B6 and K. But the real magic is in its spicy flavor. The substance responsible, capsaicin, has been shown to fight inflammation, reduce pain, prevent ulcers, and have cardiovascular benefits (reducing cholesterol, triglyceride levels and blood-clotting).
How to enjoy it: Two words: pasta al’arrabiata. Another great way is to drink hot chocolate like the mayas did (probably while making calendars), spiced up with chilli for some extra pizazz. See this recipe for inspiration. Guaranteed to warm you up.
Cumin: Giving flavor to many Middle Eastern foods, cumin is a digestive aid by stimulating enzyme-secretion from the pancreas. Besides that, it’s anti-carcinogenic, which means it helps prevent and fight cancer, and helps detoxing the body by enhancing liver enzyme function.
How to enjoy it: Cumin goes well with all sorts of legumes. I like to put it into spicy lentil soup. It also compliments the flavor of many vegetables.
Nutmeg: The brown nut lends a distinct aroma to any dish. It’s another digestive aid and has anti-inflammatory properties. The real kicker is its positive influence on the brain, by stimulating production of the neurotransmitter dopamin. Talk about a pick-me-up. Dopamin is the thing that puts a kick in our stride and makes us feel excited about life. That’s why Mike Mahler advises to get nutmeg in the morning. By the way, for extra style points you should grind it yourself.
How to enjoy: In mashed potatoes, creamy pasta sauces, or do it like Mahler does and put it in your protein bars and shakes.