A Nutritional Introduction To Common Spices
A balanced diet is part of a healthy lifestyle that can benefit people well into their golden years. The body needs specific nutrients and vitamins to perform its various functions, and if there is any type of deficiency, these functions can begin to break down. When this happens, chronic illness and other ailments can occur, taking a toll on your overall health.
While fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, and lean protein sources are all part of a healthy diet, there is more that you can do to ensure you’re giving your body all the good stuff it needs. One such addition to cooking that many people overlook when it comes to nutrition is spices. But what are the most common spices? And how do spices benefit overall health?
What are the major spices used in cooking?
There are over 100 spices that are used in cooking around the world to enrich the flavor of certain dishes. Some spices may be found in basically every kitchen, while others may be more regionally specific, but they all have one thing in common: spices contain powerful and concentrated antioxidants that can be beneficial to your health.
It can be difficult to determine which spices are the most commonly used because different cultures and cuisines use spices differently. Where one person may use a ton of cumin because they like its flavor, another person may rely heavily on oregano because it’s a staple in their culture’s cuisine.
That being said, there are some spices that are considered pantry staples when it comes to cooking pretty much any type of cuisine. These major spices include:
- Black pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Garlic powder
- Dried ginger
- Chili pepper
Image by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash: Are spices healthy? Yes – and tasty, too!
What is the importance of spices in human nutrition?
Aside from taking your cooking up a notch, spices can be assets to overall health. They contain concentrated versions of powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that make their way around the body searching for free radicals, which are atoms that cause damage to cells. When the body is heavy on free radicals and low on antioxidants, it can lead to oxidative stress – an imbalance that leads to damage to DNA, proteins, and fatty tissue, all of which can cause disease over time.
Some diseases that have been linked to prolonged oxidative stress include:
- Hardening of the blood vessels, also known as atherosclerosis
- Inflammatory conditions and illnesses
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
To lower the risk of oxidative stress in your body, it’s vital to keep free radicals and antioxidants in harmonious balance. You can help with this by adding a little extra spice to your meals.
What are the health benefits of spices?
There are countless health benefits of eating spices on a regular basis. The best way to get the most out of your spices is by using a varied combinations throughout the week. The following spices and their health benefits are a great place to start when it comes to adding spices to your nutritional journey.
Black pepper is extremely popular because of its simple ability to take food up a notch, but it can also provide major health benefits such as lowering inflammation, improving brain function, fighting cancer, and boosting the absorption of other essential nutrients such as calcium and selenium.
Aside from its high antioxidants, cumin has also been shown to help protect against cancer, help treat gastrointestinal issues, control blood sugar, and fight off bacterial and parasitic infections.
Garlic has been used medicinally for centuries. When it is dried into a spice, it can benefit your health greatly. Some specific benefits of garlic powder include reducing the length or duration of a common cold, lowering blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease and neurogenerative diseases, and boosting athletic performance.
Cinnamon is a sweeter spice that is often used in desserts. It contains powerful antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood sugar levels, and protect against cancer.
Oregano is a staple in the kitchen, but it also packs a powerful health punch. Although it is technically an herb, there is some debate about its classification. Either way, oregano is rich in antioxidants that help keep the body from getting damaged by oxidative stress and reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer. It can also act as an antibacterial, which helps keep harmful pathogens at bay.
Turmeric contains a powerful substance known as curcumin. Curcumin works to help fight against damage done by oxidative stress and even helps the body produce antioxidant enzymes. It can also lower inflammation and improve brain function.
Image by Prachi Palwe on Unsplash: Turmeric is an incredibly healthy addition to any diet.
Ginger has been used to help treat nausea for centuries because it is both gentle and effective. The compounds contained in ginger (fresh and dried) also have anti-inflammatory properties, and can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
Cayenne pepper isn’t for everyone because of its spiciness, but it does pack a punch when it comes to health benefits. It contains capsaicin, which has been shown to boost metabolism, reduce hunger, lower blood pressure, relieve pain, and improve skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Chili pepper also contains capsaicin, which provides the major health benefits listed above. Some other health benefits of capsaicin include a reduction in overall inflammation in the body, help with digestion, and reduction of the risk of developing cancer. Crushed red pepper flakes also contain capsaicin, and thus possess the same health benefits as chili and cayenne pepper.
Adding spices to your diet is the easiest and best way to take full advantage of all the powerful health benefits they have. There are so many different options to choose from, you’re bound to find at least a few spices that you love!
Featured image by Victoria Zakharchuk on Unsplash
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