Add some healthy spice to our lives

We love the smells of autumn. Seasoned wood burning in fireplaces, hot mulled cider, pine- and harvest-scented candles, apple and pumpkin pies cooling on window sills…it’s a preface for the great sensory explosion awaiting us as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach. But beyond priming our salivary glands and triggering nostalgic memories of years past, scents — and specifically the spices that complement our cooking and fill the air in our kitchens and dining rooms — have valuable health and healing properties.

Nutritionists and researchers are constantly exploring the healthy properties of spices and herbs. Benefits include protection against a range of illnesses like heart disease and cancer, reducing inflammation, support in our weight-loss efforts and much more. Spices and herbs are botanically classified as fruits and vegetables. Since they are often used when dried and no longer contain the water that makes up a significant part of fresh produce, spices and herbs offer an even higher level of antioxidants.

We’re not talking exotic spices, either. For example, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the equivalent level of antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries and one cup of pomegranate juice. We put cinnamon on cereal, cakes and cookies, and it’s found in many other common recipes. Cinnamon also is rich in natural compounds called polyphenols. Research suggests that these compounds may act like insulin in our body to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Using more herbs and spices is also an easy way to boost the nutrition of our diet because with the added flavor, we can cut the salt, fat, and added sugar in our recipes. Here is more data to flavor our thinking:

Many common spices, in addition to cinnamon, contain antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and vitamins A, C, and E.

Spices contain anti-inflammatory properties. Certain herbs and spices contain unique protective properties that help reduce inflammation, which is a precursor to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, allergies, and Alzheimer’s. Spices and herbs can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet to add flavor and also to assist in healing.

Spices help contribute to weight loss. Spices can boost metabolism, promote satiety, aid weight management and enhance the overall quality of a diet. For example, the capsaicin in peppers is believed to have metabolic-boosting properties. In addition, if the food we eat is flavorful and satisfying, there is a good chance we will eat less and consume fewer calories.

Many spices and herbs appear to have some beneficial effects, whether used fresh or dried. Researchers are exploring which are enhanced or diminished through the process of heating and cooking, but here are some prime examples featuring the greatest health-enhancing potential:

  • Oregano is among the highest in antioxidants of the dried herbs, and is used in many familiar, everyday foods, including sauces, stews, salads and sandwiches.
  • Rosemary includes compounds which appear to help reduce inflammation in the body, which is a trigger and indirect risk factor for many chronic diseases. Rosemary is also being studied for its role in heart health.
  • Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly found in curry powder. Researchers are examining the role of turmeric in brain health and for protecting against cognitive decline associated with aging. In addition, curry is a heart-healthy condiment often found in egg, chicken and tuna salads, dips and dressings, cooked vegetables and poultry dishes.
  • Thyme offers antioxidant advantages, and may play a role in improved respiratory function. It can be added to salad dressing and creamy dips, used on vegetables and fish, and included in sautéed or stir-fried dishes.
  • Ginger is found in a variety of sweet and savory glazes, sauces and Asian-style dishes, and is often used on fish and vegetables. One teaspoon of ground ginger has similar antioxidant levels as one cup of spinach, and the compounds in ginger are thought to have a positive effect on reducing pain and nausea, as well as addressing other digestive issues.
  • Dried red peppers are believed to enhance metabolism, increase satiety and stimulate fat burning, making it a dietary friend to anyone watching his or her weight. Spices derived from red peppers include cayenne, crushed red pepper and paprika.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!