Aiming to have better nutrition? Look no further than the spice rack. Recent studies have shown that ancient medicinal ingredients still ring true in the use of spices and herbs to improve health and treat maladies.
This fragrant, evergreen herb contains carnosic acid, which fights free radical damage in the brain and prevents brain aging. Delicious in bread and on chicken, rosemary also boosts the immune system and improves blood circulation with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Rosemary is a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin B6 whether dried, powdered or fresh.
There are two types of cinnamon: Ceylon, or ‘true cinnamon,’ and Cassia, the cheaper version found in most grocery stores and products. While both lower blood sugar and fight infections in the body, Ceylon cinnamon contains less coumarin, which can cause liver damage when consumed in large quantities. Sprinkle on coffee, oatmeal or toast when experiencing muscle soreness to benefit from cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Mint contains menthol, a natural decongestant, and rosmarinic acid, an anti-inflammatory that combats the common cold and seasonal allergy symptoms. This calming, soothing herb also alleviates upset stomach and digestion. Fresh mint leaves are a great addition to lamb dishes, soups, fruit salads and beverages. Steep fresh mint leaves in hot water to make a comforting tea.
Whether enjoying the fresh root or powdered spice, ginger relieves digestion maladies such as nausea and loss of appetite. Consuming ginger has also been known to reduce exercise-induced muscle pain because of its anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Drink ginger tea, add ginger to stir-fry dishes and soup or use crystallized ginger in baking.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric aids in digestion, liver function and reducing inflammation. The curcumin in turmeric boosts immunity within the body and regulates cholesterol levels. This warm, golden spice is found in curry and mustards, but try adding it to scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables and rice to explore the health benefits and unique flavor.
The basil plant grows in many varieties around the world, from Thai to Mediterranean, all with an assortment of vital nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. The phenolic compounds in basil help prevent cancer, and, in traditional Tamil and Ayurvedic medicine, basil is used to reduce inflammation and swelling. Season pasta with basil pesto or garnish a dish with fresh basil leaves.
An essential ingredient in Central American cuisine for several thousand years, cayenne pepper can be intolerably spicy, but is an excellent source for vitamin C, vitamin A, and essential minerals like iron, zinc and potassium. The capsicum in cayenne peppers boosts heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Try adding powdered or dry, whole peppers to a dish for flavor and zest. Muscle soreness can also be treated using cayenne pepper creams and oils on the affected area.