It’s a perfect time to spice up your life.
As we emerge from the places the pandemic kept us, many of us are still recovering from cooking fatigue. Preparing more meals at home challenged our kitchen confidence and uncovered some hidden talents we didn’t know we had. With all of my grown children coming home at one time or another, they brought with them their newly acquired flavor preferences and a medley of spices, including a few that I wasn’t accustomed to cooking with.
Seasonings and spices deliciously provide a variety of health benefits — from supporting your immune system to controlling blood sugar. So whether you’re looking to spice up your food, ease a specific medical ailment or just create a culinary masterpiece, check out why perking up your favorite dish can satisfy more than just your palate.
According to Fresh Trends, chilies are hot item for millennials. This age group isn’t afraid to add zing to their foods, including unexpected flavor combos. How about some chili in your chocolate?
Chili peppers bring more than an explosion-in-your-mouth experience since they’re rich in vitamin A, and they have been shown to reduce pain, fight free radicals, lower cholesterol, clear congestion and support immunity. Contrary to popular myths, 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, Italian or Indian dishes. Capsaicin, the powerful compound in chilis, may help promote heart health as well.
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 excellent source of vitamin K and fiber and is packed with antioxidants — as many as you’ll find in three cups of spinach.
Moreover, oregano is known to be an effective anti-bacterial agent to help fight infections. This spice has been used for thousands of years to cure anything from acne to athlete’s foot. I’ve grown oregano indoors and in the garden to add a fresh taste to red sauces and salads.
Curcumin, the potent component of turmeric, has substantial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to relieve arthritis pain and help 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.
Two teaspoons a day provide 10% of your daily value of iron and 17% of your daily manganese, so try adding this splash of color to lentil curry or even scrambled eggs.
Cinnamon is one of the most commonly used spices in the United States. A dash in your morning cup of coffee and a sprinkle on your oatmeal provides half your day’s worth of manganese. And it even provides fiber.
If you have diabetes, this nutty-tasting spice on carbohydrate-containing foods could prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking since aromatic spice can also aid your body’s response to insulin. Cinnamon’s aroma provides a soothing, comforting feeling that brings back memories of freshly baked treats. This spice is a staple in my house, appearing in every muffin I’ve ever made. Here’s my recipe for banana almond muffins with cinnamon.
Did you know that garlic is super-talented and can fight colds, support heart health (by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides) and provide anti-inflammatory properties all at once? Studies have shown that garlic protects your blood vessels from oxidative stress and inflammation, so be sure to add a generous amount to your meals each day.
As a good source of selenium, flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, garlic deserves a valuable place on your plate. Alliin, a chemical in garlic, is released when crushed or cut up, so let cut garlic sit for around 10 minutes before using it to make the most of its benefits. Try roasting a few cloves — the aroma alone will attract your family to the kitchen.
Ginger is known to settle an upset stomach and even morning sickness. It has also been linked to reducing pain. Gingerol, the potent chemical in ginger, helps decrease inflammation and blocks nerve pathways that process pain.
If you plan on any boat rides or long car trips this summer, be sure to pack some form of ginger, which has been shown to curtail motion sickness. Aside from steeping ginger in your tea, add it to your vegetable stir-fry or top your chicken or fish dishes with a sprinkle of ginger or ginger paste.
Cocoa is much more than a steamy beverage to enjoy on a cold day. 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.
I add a teaspoon of sweetened cocoa to my late afternoon coffee for the perfect pick-me-up. Surprisingly, 1 tablespoon of sweetened cocoa mix provides just 16 calories and 2 grams of sugar.
Make your own spice mix.
Although studies have shown that we actually get more sodium in our diets from breads, pastries and baked goods than we do from the salt that sits on our tables, you can turn a blasé dish into an explosion of flavors with a little shake of some spices.
Try ditching 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. Before you know it, you’ll be creating meal memories that could last a lifetime.
7 spices, herbs and flavors to add to your meals for better health:
— Chili pepper.
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