The Benefits of Spicing Up Your Diet

Spices are a valuable part of a healthy diet. In addition to giving food flavor without having to add salt, many spices such as cloves and turmeric have health benefits that are especially important for older adults. Here are five spices to cook with and keep stocked in your spice rack.

1. Cayenne


Its Benefit

The capsaicin in cayenne peppers relieves pain and has been used in Ayurveda medicine as a topical analgesic for centuries. Multiple studies demonstrate capsaicin’s effectiveness in relieving pain associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, shingles, diabetic neuropathy and post-surgery neuropathic pain.

How to Use It

More recently, capsaicin has become available as an over-the-counter cream for temporary relief from muscle and joint pain, and as a medically prescribed patch. You may have seen the capsaicin cream marketed under the brand names Capzasin or Zostrix. If you suffer from general aches and pains, arthritis, back or nerve pain, this cayenne pepper derivative may help.

2. Cloves

Cloves: The All-Natural Antioxidant

Its Benefit

The eugenol content in cloves is thought to be antimicrobial — helpful for cold and flu season.

How to Use It

Cloves come in whole form, which is great for mulled wine and apple cider recipes, or they can be ground using a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar. Add cloves to baked goods, smoothies and oatmeal — or anywhere you might think to use cinnamon or ginger.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric May Be the World's Healthiest Spice

Its Benefits

You probably know turmeric for its bright yellow hue in curry dishes. What you might not know is that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has an amazing array of health benefits. Eating curry powder or taking curcumin supplements has been shown to improve cognitive performance, alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, and relieve pain and inflammation associated with diabetes and osteoarthritis of the knee.

How to Use It

Sprinkle ground turmeric over soups and stirfrys. Turmeric can also give homemade mac and cheese a flavorful boost. If you’re using fresh turmeric root, peel and grate it like a ginger root. Sauté freshly grated turmeric in stirfrys or use in marinades for chicken and fish.

4. Sumac Spice

Health-Benefits-of-Sumac Spice

Its Benefits

When herbs and spices are rated for antioxidant levels sumac spice sits atop the list, even above commonly used spices like cinnamon and oregano. Eating foods high in antioxidants can help prevent heart disease and breast cancer and treat osteoarthritis.

How to Use It

While it has a diverse flavor profile, sumac blends surprisingly well with other spices such as allspice, chili, thyme and cumin. It’s also used to make Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, that includes oregano, thyme and sesame seeds. A sprinkle of sumac is also a great way to perk up the flavor of popcorn or bread-dipping oil.

5. Cinnamon


Its Benefit

Cinnamaldehyde in cassia cinnamon is one of the compounds that may help slow down glucose (sugar) entering the bloodstream, which helps people with diabetes avoid blood sugar spikes. It also helps reduce fasting plasma glucose concentrations in people with poor blood sugar control.

How to Use It

Cinnamon marries well with fruit so try it in pies and crumbles. It also works well sprinkled over your morning oatmeal or bowl of granola. In savory dishes, cinnamon mixes well with curries and stew, and is commonly used with used with pork, chicken, lamb, squash and carrots — perfect for autumn cooking. In beverages, cinnamon adds a spike of flavor to hot cocoa and is an important spice in warming chai tea. Brew a cup of tea and add in a cinnamon stick for a hint of spice.

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