Five spices to boost your health
For most people, herbs and spices are all about flavour and are used only to make a meal more exciting. Historically spices have had two important uses; cooking and medicine, in recent years we have forgotten how we can use spices to nourish and heal.
Cinnamon is a wonderful spice to include, particularly in sweet foods, as it is able to slow the digestion of carbohydrates (sugars) which helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Research has also shown that daily cinnamon intake can reduce LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and total cholesterol in the blood. To gain the benefits of cinnamon you only need half to one teaspoon each day, it can be added to your morning smoothie, sprinkled on granola, mixed through porridge, added to sweet baking, added to chia tea and used in savoury curries and soups.
Curcumin is the active component in turmeric that makes it so special. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant which has been proven to help prevent cancer, heart disease, stomach ulcers, bacterial infections and Alzheimers. Turmeric has also been proven to be just as effective at reducing inflammation as pharmaceutical medications. Three to four grams of dried turmeric is all you need to in order to supply your body with disease-fighting antioxidants. Turmeric doesn't have a particularly strong flavour so it can be added to most dishes, smoothies, baking, or used to make a turmeric latte (see recipe below).
You probably have a jar of this at the back of your pantry from that one time you made Mexican food, pull it out and start using it to spice up your meals. The spicy taste of cayenne pepper comes from a chemical called capsaicin, which helps to reduce your appetite. You may remember that cayenne pepper was an important component of the dreadful Lemon Detox Diet, and it was all because of its ability to reduce hunger and help you feel fuller quicker. Very little cayenne pepper is needed to get the appetite reducing effects, simply use enough to be able to taste the spicy flavour.
Fennel is a versatile plant; the bulb, stem, and seeds can all be used in both cooking and medicine. Fennel seeds contain oils which help to settle the digestive system, reducing bloating and gas. These tiny seeds are often chewed to help eradicate bad breath, the seeds have antimicrobial properties so when the bacteria in the mouth is killed off the smell disappears too.
Although cacao isn't thought of as a spice, it technically is, and would have to be the most universally loved spice. Cacao or cocoa powder is a potent source of magnesium and potassium, helping the body relax, reducing menstrual cramps and PMS. Regular consumption of dark chocolate has shown to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cognitive decline, stroke and cancer. One to two squares of 80 percent dark chocolate each day must be the easiest of ways to stay healthy.
Words on Wellness by Jessica Gilijam-Brown
New Zealand based Holistic Nutritionist (BSc) @wellnessbyjessica