Nothing against salt and pepper but when it comes to flavoring food, there are other spices in the proverbial sea. From turmeric to cayenne pepper, they won’t just please your taste buds—they can also impact your overall health (something we’re all thinking about during the cold winter months). “Spices come from plants and seeds so they’re loaded with healthy compounds called phytochemicals, which can help fend off inflammation,” says nutritionist Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS. And, because they’re so flavorful, these healthy spices allow you to use less sugar, salt, and fat in your cooking.
Now that the weather has turned chilly, it’s the perfect time to warm up with a comforting spice or two in your food. Here are a few to consider adding to your collection in the kitchen (or meals you order!)
Common in Indian cuisine, this yellow-orange functional spice has become known as a trendy superfood for its ability to reduce inflammation. “The main phytochemical in turmeric is curcumin, which has been widely studied and shown to fight inflammation in the body,” says Scheller. Because of its anti-inflammatory qualities, curcumin can help reduce pain and swelling in people with arthritis and may even have anti-cancer properties.
How to use this healthy spice: With its potent, earthy flavor, turmeric is delicious when sprinkled into curries, stews, and sauces, says Scheller. We use it to pump up the flavor in our Pork Carnitas. It’s also tasty (and pretty!) on roasted vegetables like cauliflower. Pro tip: To help your body better absorb turmeric, combine it with black pepper.
This spicy winter favorite is known for its ability to relieve nausea, bloating, and other stomach issues, says Scheller. These benefits of ginger can be especially helpful for women who are pregnant. Studies have shown that ginger can help ease pregnancy-related nausea and reduce stomach upset after surgery. You can buy it in powder form at the grocery store or grate fresh ginger into drinks and meals.
How to use this healthy spice: Scheller’s favorite method is to make ginger tea: Simply boil slices of fresh ginger for five to 10 minutes and then pour the liquid through a fine sieve to catch all of the ginger. Add a slice of lemon or a drizzle of honey to temper ginger’s spicy flavor. You can also add fresh ginger to smoothies and salad dressings for a little extra zing. We use it to add fresh flavor to our Creamy Cashew-Coconut Chicken.
Many people love this spice as a tasty topping for PSLs, but the benefits of cinnamon go far beyond flavor. Research shows it can stabilize blood sugar levels, which is especially important for people who have diabetes, says Scheller. “Cinnamon helps your body be less reactive to carbs,” she explains. “Your blood sugar won’t spike as much, which means you’ll be less likely to crash later.” There’s also some research that indicates cinnamon may keep your heart healthy by reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
How to use this healthy spice: Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit. You can also use it in soups and stews or as a meat rub (we use it to flavor the rice in our Chicken Tagine). One of Scheller’s favorite ways to use cinnamon is to add it to coffee grounds when you’re brewing a pot. “It gets rid of the bitterness of the coffee and makes it taste amazing,” she says.
This chili pepper—there are many types of peppers—is popular in Mexican and Southwestern American cuisine. The benefits of cayenne pepper comes from a substance called capsaicin, which acts as an analgesic to help reduce pain. “Capsaicin blocks nerve receptors that send pain signals to your brain, so you don’t register as much discomfort,” explains Scheller. Like other spicy foods, it can also rev your metabolism, helping you burn more calories and fat.
How to use this healthy spice: This spicy pepper is a great way to add heat to chili, soups, and stews. You can also sprinkle it onto seafood like fish, shrimp, and oysters or use it to spice up dips like hummus and guacamole. Scheller is fan of adding a pinch of cayenne to hot chocolate for extra heat and flavor. Here at Freshly, we use it to spice up the sauce in our Chicken Tikka Masala.
Ok, you probably already have this one on your kitchen counter but the benefits of black pepper shouldn’t be overlooked. “Black pepper enhances digestive secretion, helping your body absorb more nutrients from the foods you eat,” says Scheller. Another boon: Studies show that black pepper is a good source of antioxidants, which can help fight free radicals associated with cancer formation.
How to use this healthy spice: Grind black pepper into soups, salad dressings, meat rubs, grain bowls, and more to add depth of flavor and a healthy kick. We recommend grinding some fresh cracked pepper on all our meals!
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