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20 Jun 2014

Spices for Health

Everyone knows that spices can excite your taste buds, but few realise just how beneficial they can be for your health. Spices have been used around the world for centuries, and have become an integral part of our nutritional intake. Spices are composed of an impressive list of nutritional compounds, from essential oils, phyto-nutrients and antioxidants through to the basic minerals and vitamins needed for daily life. Whether it's a spoonful of cinnamon or a pinch of turmeric, spices are a great way to make your food healthy and tasty at the same time.

It's a well known fact that fruits and vegetables are good for your health. However, not only do many spices have more disease-fighting antioxidants than most fruits and veggies, they are also easier to integrate into meals and ingest as supplements. According to Wendy Bazilian, nutrition adviser and author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, "Technically, spices are vegetables in concentrated form... Like veggies, they contain thousands of healthy phytonutrient compounds, including antioxidants."

It's easy to be confused by the differences between herbs and spices, both of which can be used to enhance flavour and promote health. Basically, herbs come from the leafy green part of the plant, while spices come from any other part of the plant such as the root, stem, bark, bulb, or seeds. Unlike herbs, spices are mostly grown in tropical areas, and are more likely to be dried before they are used for seasoning or medicine. Just like all foods, however, not all spices are created equal, with some plants more well known for their disease-fighting properties.

While not to everyone's taste, chilli peppers offer a number of medical benefits to those who can stomach them. The hottest varieties are generally the healthiest, with the ingredient capsaicin enhancing health along with flavour. Capsaicin provides pain relief and boosts metabolism, and has also been shown to lower the risk of skin, colon, and prostrate cancers. Cinnamon is another super spice, with this popular and much milder ingredient a great way to keep your arteries healthy, lower your cholesterol, and manage blood sugar levels over time.

Ginger is another popular spice with a long history of medicinal use, and a common ingredient in numerous nausea and travel sickness products. Ginger has been found to reduce motion sickness and may also relieve pain and swelling associated with arthritis. Love it or hate it, garlic is another common ingredient known for its positive health effects. Used for centuries in traditional medicine, garlic has a number of antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties and is sometimes advocated for the prevention of heart disease.

Perhaps the most popular medicinal spice in recent years is turmeric, a brightly coloured root that comes from the same family as ginger. Turmeric has been found to reduce inflammation in arthritis patients and may help to block the formation of some cancers. While anti-cancer properties are always contentious, according to Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas, the ingredient curcumin in turmeric can help to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. While the positive effects of spices can be overblown by some natural health practitioners, there is no doubt that certain spices have a positive health impact.