Top 10 Healing Culinary Spices
By Sarah Axtell, ND • April 3, 2015
It is well established that cultures that eat a diet rich in spices are healthier. A spice is defined as an edible, concentrated source of phytonutrients. You likely have many of these “medicines” in your kitchen cabinet. Season your food liberally with these spices to not only deepen the flavor of your cuisine, but to also prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, alzheimer’s and cancer.
Spices can also be a powerful way to slow the aging process…or as I like to put it, promote “graceful aging.” An antioxidant rich diet slows down shortening of telomeres. This is important when it comes to anti-aging. Telomeres are protective caps at the end of the chromosome, and changes in telomere length is a commonly used proxy for aging. Where do we get antioxidants? Colorful fruits and vegetables and SPICES!
Here are the top 10 spices to keep in your kitchen cabinet:
1. Turmeric: Active ingredient- Curcumin
- Truly, the “Rock Star” of Medicinal Herbs
- There are thousands of studies on the medicinal value of turmeric.
- The number #1 anti-inflammatory natural agent we have
- Effective against Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases
- Recommended dosage: 500 mg a day, take with black pepper to enhance its bioavailability
- Culinary uses: 1 tsp turmeric powder daily used with black pepper.
2. Black cumin: Active ingredient- Thymoquinone
- Anti-cancer, Anti-diabetes, Anti-obesity
- Often used in curries
- Recommended dosages: 250 mg-1000 mg daily as powder or oil
- Culinary uses: Garnish to prepared foods. Dry roast with other spices, cool and grind.
3. Black pepper: Active ingredient- Piperine
- Rich in antioxidants, anti-microbial and an excellent digestive aid
- Aids in weight loss
- Boosts absorption of other essential nutrients when added to a meal
- Enhances cognitive brain function
- Enhances the bioavailability of curcumin (the active component in turmeric)
- Culinary uses: Try adding black pepper to your marinades, which will significantly decrease harmful lipid peroxidation that is normally created when grilling meat.
4. Cardamom: Active ingredient- Cineole and Limonene
- Recommended dosages: 1.5 grams of dried seeds daily
- Culinary uses: use as a condiment to dishes. Also used in chai tea.
5. Chili: Active ingredient- Capsaicin
- Effective against neuropathic (nerve) pain when taken both orally and applied topically
- Also, cardio-protective (beneficial for heart health) and anti-inflammatory
- Recommended dosage: 500 mg orally and capsaicin cream applied topically for pain
- Culinary uses: As tolerated (SPICY!)
6. Cinnamon: Active ingredient(s)- Cinaminic acid and Cinnamaldehyde
- Anti-diabetic activity
- Recommended dosage: 1-1.5 grams daily
- Culinary uses: Ground cinnamon is used in baking and cooking.
7. Cocoa: Active ingredient- Cocoa flavonoid
- Improves cognitive function, good for Alzheimer’s prevention
- Anti-diabetic potential
- Cardio-protective (beneficial for heart health)
- Recommended dosage: 2 grams/day
- Culinary uses: Dark chocolate has more flavonoids. Aim for at least 65% of cocoa in your chocolate. Can add 1-3 tsps cocoa powder to smoothies or chia pudding.
8. Ginger: Active ingredient(s)- Gingerol and Shogaol
- Anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory
- High in antioxidants, which help slow the aging process
- Promotes good blood circulation
- Immune strengthening- antimicrobial
- Culinary uses: Available dried or fresh. Use in stir-fries and curries. Can drink as a hot ginger tea.
- For more info on ginger and recipes, see my previous blog post, Food Cures with Ginger
9. Fenugreek: Active ingredient- Diosgenin
- Anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory.
- Lowers blood cholesterol.
- Increases milk production in lactating mothers
- Recommended dosage: Up to 5 grams/day
- Culinary uses: Dry roast with other spices, cool and grind.
10. Thyme: Active ingredient(s)- Thymol, Carvacrol
- Great for your immune system! Thymol belongs to a class of compounds that possess antimicrobial activity on pathogenic strains of bacteria.
- Recommended dosage: Use fresh, dried, or as an extract
- Culinary Uses: 5-20 sprigs of fresh or dried thyme
All these health effects of each spice are additive as they are best used on a regular basis and even together. Spices work synergistically together (as in the case of turmeric and black pepper, for example). All spices listed above can actually all be used as apart of a good curry. It may take some stepping outside your comfort zone to try these spices so maybe you just start with incorporating one new herb per week in your diet. Ethnic recipes, such as Indian and Thai, tend to incorporate many of these spices listed. And don’t forget to polish off your Indian curry with a square or two of dark chocolate to reap the heart-healthy benefits of those flavonoids.
For an easy and delicious vegetable curry recipe, see this Curry in a Hurry recipe.
Parents: Don’t be afraid to spice it up when it comes to cooking for your children.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.