Spices as medicine: Enhancing health with flavour

Spices do more than just add flavour to our foods – they also support our health in various ways.

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What exactly is a spice?

A spice is any dried plant bark, leaf, root, seed, or bud used to enhance the taste of food. These flavourful ingredients are packed with antioxidant phytochemicals known as polyphenols, which plants produce to protect themselves from predators and harsh environmental conditions. The exposed parts of plants, like those used in spices, are particularly rich in polyphenols.

In the human body, antioxidant polyphenols help fight free radicals – oxidised molecules that can damage our cells. Interestingly, the polyphenols in spices become more absorbable when heated. Additionally, these polyphenols act as short-term stressors in our body, triggering a beneficial process called hormesis. This process stresses our cells just enough to activate their repair and antioxidant pathways.

Let’s explore the health properties of some common spices that might already be in your kitchen:

Cinnamon

Cinnamon can help balance blood glucose levels, even at culinary doses if consumed for four or more weeks in a row. The ideal quantity is about four grams per day, roughly equivalent to two teaspoons. Try adding cinnamon to your morning porridge or yoghurt.

Turmeric

Turmeric is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, working on the same pathways as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Incorporate turmeric into your diet by adding it to scrambled tofu, roasted cauliflower, or even smoothies.

Chili pepper

Chilli peppers also boast anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption can help reduce chronic inflammation. Add a bit of chilli to your avocado toast, pasta sauces, or stir-fries for a spicy kick.

Star anise

Star anise contains shikimic acid, a compound used to make oseltamivir (Tamiflu), a flu treatment. Use star anise in broths or teas for a flavorful health boost.

Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are excellent for relieving bloating. You can chew on fennel seeds after meals or brew them into a soothing tea.

Cloves

Cloves have the highest antioxidant content of all spices and possess antiseptic and analgesic (pain-numbing) properties. A clove decoction is great for managing tooth pain or a sore throat.

Ginger

Ginger is well-known for alleviating nausea and improving gut transit time (how long it takes to digest food), which can help reduce bloating. Enjoy ginger tea or add fresh ginger to your cooking for its many benefits.


Tips for incorporating spices into your diet

If you’re not used to eating spicy foods, start slowly. Here are some easy ways to introduce more spices into your meals:

  • Cinnamon: Sprinkle on porridge, yoghurt, popcorn, or pancakes.
  • Chilli: Add to avocado toast, pasta sauces, or mild curries.
  • Turmeric: Mix into scrambled tofu, roasted vegetables, or smoothies.
  • Star anise: Include in broths or teas.
  • Fennel seeds: Chew after meals or brew into tea.
  • Cloves: Make a decoction for a soothing drink.
  • Ginger: Add to tea, stir-fries, or baked goods.

A balanced approach

While spices can enhance an already healthy diet and increase its benefits, they cannot replace medicines, especially for managing diagnosed conditions. Think of spices as a delicious way to boost your health while enjoying your meals.

By incorporating these flavorful and beneficial spices into your diet, you can support your health in simple and tasty ways. Happy cooking and stay healthy!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, W1S 1HP
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Written by Lucia Stansbie, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Dip CNM, mBANT, mCNHC
London, W1S 1HP

Lucia Stansbie is the founder of Food Power Nutrition.
Lucia is a BANT and CNHC registered Nutritional Therapist and member of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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