Using a variety of spices in your cooking can have a big impact on your health – learn how and get inspired by our recipes here.
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Spices, often seen as an insignificant ingredient in Western diets, are incredibly important – in more ways than one. While they can add tons of flavor to a dish (which is always a plus), they also have a surprising number of health benefits. From fighting inflammation to promoting heart health and a strong immune system, these seemingly unimportant ingredients can have a big impact on your overall health.
As two American kids who grew up regularly eating pasta, burgers, pizza, and grilled chicken for dinner, Alex and I were amazed to learn about all the flavorful spices and seasonings regularly used in cuisines around the world. When we both finally tried Indian food senior year of college, I became fascinated by the flavors achieved with spices I’d never really eaten before, like turmeric and coriander and ginger.
These spices are partly what inspired us to start cooking more and challenge ourselves to develop new recipes. As we expanded our horizons and tried more and more foods from other cultures, we learned about what unique ingredients were out there, and how they could be used to create dishes with regional flavors.
But more importantly, we learned that spices are just like any other raw ingredient – elements from nature that have a certain amount of nutritional value, and therefore a surprising number of health benefits. So we learned about why spices are good for your health, and challenged ourselves to use a variety of seasonings even more regularly in our recipes.
Now, we want to share what we’ve learned with you, along with some of our favorite spice-heavy recipes to promote a healthy diet!
Certain spices like turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, and chili peppers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Since inflammation is commonly linked to conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, incorporating these ingredients into your diet can have a positive impact on your long-term health.
Immune & Gut Health
Chili peppers are high in Vitamin C, which can boost your immune system. If you’ve always wondered why spicy food helps you feel better when you’re sick, this is probably why!
As for gut health, spices like ginger, cumin, and coriander have various properties that can help you manage certain conditions.
Studies have shown that ginger speeds up the movement of food through your GI tract, which can help with acid reflux and indigestion.
Cumin has been found to relieve symptoms of IBS like bloating and abdominal pain, and it’s even been found to inhibit the growth of bacteria like E. coli. (Interestingly enough, cumin has been used as a preservative since ancient Egyptian times – yes, they used it as part of the mummification process – because of these properties.
Finally, studies have shown that coriander extract acts as a diuretic, which might help reduce symptoms of IBS in similar ways as cumin.
Cumin, garlic, and cinnamon can all be beneficial to a heart-healthy diet for two major reasons: controlling cholesterol levels (cumin) and lowering blood pressure (garlic, cinnamon).
Many studies have found that cumin can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL) at the same time.
Additionally, garlic and cinnamon have both been found to reduce blood pressure. In particular, cinnamon has high amounts of antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are reducing agents that can help reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
Managing Blood Sugar Levels
Ginger and coriander have been found to help lower blood sugar, which can prevent things like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney problems. (Coriander is actually so effective at removing sugar from the blood that people with low blood sugar should be cautious of this ingredient).
Chili peppers contain a powerful antioxidant known as capsaicin (this is also what makes them spicy!). Some studies have shown that capsaicin actually reduces your appetite while speeding up your metabolism, so ingredients like chili powder, cayenne, and red pepper flakes can all be beneficial to your diet.
While there isn’t a ton of research out there yet on the topic, some studies are beginning to explore the impact of certain foods on mental health. In particular, scientists believe turmeric may help with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety due to a compound called curcumin.
Recipes Full Of Beneficial Spices
To make it easy to incorporate more of these beneficial spices into your diet, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite spice-heavy recipes. All the recipes below use ingredients like turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, garlic, cinnamon, and chili peppers:
- Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
- Cauliflower Tikka Masala
- Roasted Veggie Risotto
- Vegetarian Mediterranean Rice Bowls
- Sweet Potato Cinnamon Spice Bread
- Cinnamon Avocado Muffins
- Shakshuka For Two
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Rice Bowl
- Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
- Homemade Ranchero Sauce
- Garlic Noodles
- Thai Chicken & Rice Bowl with Peanut Sauce
- Spicy Szechuan Dumpling Soup
- Vegetarian Tostadas
Try one (or more!) of these recipes and let us know what you think in the comments below. Which ones are your favorites? What spices do you love to cook with the most?
Disclaimer: We are not health experts, doctors, or nutritionists. We perform diligent research to make sure we are presenting the most accurate information we can find to you and we have linked to all of our sources in the post above.