Spices make your senses tingle and can perk up a bland meal with one flick of a shaker. And as it turns out, these flavorful additions do far more than just make food more appetizing--they often provide important health benefits, possibly helping to stave off major illnesses. Here are some of the healthiest spices to add to breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between.
If you're a fan of Indian food, you're probably already familiar with the spice turmeric, which helps give curry its distinctive yellow color. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, and active ingredient circumin may help combat skin cancer and prevent breast cancer from spreading to the lungs. In addition, India has a far lower rate of Alzheimer's disease than America, and some epidemiologists suspect that a turmeric-rich diet may be the reason.
Sage may make you smarter, according to a study on college students who were given supplements of this fragrant herb. After taking sage capsules, participants performed markedly better on memory tests, and even reported improvements in mood. There's also some evidence that sage can help curb early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, although more research is needed to confirm this benefit. In addition, herbalists recommend drinking sage tea to help treat upset stomachs and soothe sore throats. To add more sage to your diet, toss it into gravies as well as dishes containing pumpkin and squash.
Sprinkling cinnamon onto your oatmeal or apple slices may help you manage diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. While scientists are uncertain whether or not the spice directly reduces blood sugar, research shows that diabetics who take cinnamon supplements demonstrate better glucose control, possibly due to increased insulin activity. Although cinnamon doesn't replace other diabetes treatments, it may help to use it as a complementary treatment.
Ginger has a bold, warm flavor that's perfect for carrot soups and baked sweets--plus, the herb houses a powerful anti-inflammatory substance called gingerol. In one trial, participants who took ginger supplements experienced reduced muscular pain after performing strenuous exercise. Ginger may also help reduce pain from arthritis and osteoarthritis, and could help fight certain cancers. Along with these potential benefits, ginger has long been used to treat upset stomachs, and can help people with motion sickness, morning sickness or other stomach maladies.
5. Black Pepper
Sometimes referred to as "the king of spices," black pepper comes with a host of health perks and pairs well with nearly any savory dish. Derived from the peppercorn, which is not a true pepper, black pepper is both an antibiotic and an antioxidant. It stimulates fat breakdown, which may aid in weight loss, and some research shows that the spice may help lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood while increasing levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries as plaque, contributing to heart disease. In contrast, HDL cholesterol helps clear the arteries for a healthier heart.
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Nina Kate is a certified fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She also studied journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and has contributed to numerous major publications as a freelance writer. Nina thrives on sharing nutrition and fitness knowledge to help readers lead healthy, active lives. Visit her wellness blog at BodyFlourish.com.