Have you tried a sprinkle of cinnamon on your oatmeal? Oregano on your salad? Ginger in your tea? Spicing your food is one of the easiest ways to enhance flavor without adding calories, sodium or fat, and it’s not only your waistline that will benefit from the zest. Seasonings and spices deliciously provide a variety of health benefits – from boosting immunity to controlling blood sugar.
Chili pepper. According to a new study, this fiery spice is gaining popularity and is especially favored by millennials – for good reasons. Chili peppers are rich in vitamin A, and they can reduce pain, fight free radicals, lower cholesterol, clear congestion and boost immunity. Contrary to popular myth, they've been shown to fight stomach ulcers, not cause them, so don't shy away from adding some heat to your favorite Mexican, Thai or Italian dishes. Capsaicin, the powerful compound in chiles, can rev up your metabolism and increase your body's fat burning abilities. But sorry … that doesn't mean pouring on chili powder automatically means peeling off pounds.
[Read: Top 5 Foods to Fight Inflammation.]
Oregano. A pinch of this Mediterranean spice can do more than enhance the flavor of your salad or pizza. A single teaspoon of dried oregano is a source of vitamin K and fiber and is packed with antioxidants – as many as are in three cups of spinach, in fact. Moreover, oregano is known to be an effective anti-bacterial agent, especially against stomach bugs, by preventing little critters from multiplying.
Turmeric. A media superstar, this yellow spice has been given lots of attention because of its anti-inflammatory benefits. Curcumin, the potent component of tumeric has substantial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which have been shown to relieve arthritis pain and manage diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cystic fibrosis and a variety of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. This Indian staple has even been used to speed the healing of wounds. Plus, recent research has explored its potential uses as a cancer fighter. Two teaspoons a day provide 10 percent of your daily value of iron and 17 percent of your daily manganese, so try adding this splash of color to lentil curry or even scrambled eggs.
[Read: 5 Secret Smoothie Ingredients.]
Cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of the most commonly used spices in the United States. A dash in your morning cup of Joe and a sprinkle on your oatmeal provides half your day's worth of manganese and is an excellent source of fiber. If you have diabetes, a touch of this nutty-tasting spice on carbohydrate-containing foods could prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking. This aromatic spice can also aid your body's response to insulin. Cinnamon may even prevent unwanted blood clots, relieve indigestion and possibly enhance cardiac health.
Garlic. Did you know that garlic is an excellent cold-fighter, boosts heart health (by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides), and has anti-inflammatory properties? Studies have shown that garlic protects your blood vessels from oxidative stress and inflammation, so be sure to add at least half a clove's worth to your meals daily. As a good source of selenium, flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, garlic deserves a valuable place on your plate. Try roasting a few cloves – the aroma alone will attract your family to the kitchen!
Ginger. Ginger is known to settle an upset stomach and even morning sickness, but now it's also linked to reducing pain. Gingerol, the potent chemical in ginger, helps decrease inflammation and blocks nerve pathways that process pain. Aside from steeping ginger in your tea, add it to your vegetable stir-fry to give your palate an extra zing!
Cocoa. Cocoa is much more than a steamy beverage to enjoy after skiing. Although not actually a spice, cocoa can jazz up sauces and marinades, providing a rich, savory flavor. Dishes made with the addition of cocoa will make your heart smile, too – cocoa flavanols have been shown to reduce blood pressure and enhance circulation…sending blood to all of the right places!
Spices can turn a blasé dish into an explosion of flavors in your mouth, with the bonus side effect of boosting your health.
Tip: Shake the salt from the salt-shakers and instead, add an array of spices and seasonings. Just leave them on the table for your family to experiment with and enjoy.
How have you spiced things up lately?
[Read: U.S. News Best Diets.]
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.