In addition to their flavor and aroma, spices have traditionally been used to support health and well-being. Science has also confirmed some of the health benefits that may be achieved by consuming spices. Here’s a list of five spices you may use in your home cooking to help promote health and vitality.
Cinnamon has been used as a spice for centuries and was traditionally prized for its ability to soothe digestive problems. Today, scientists are more interested in cinnamon for its potential ability to help promote healthy sugar metabolism. In vitro, studies suggest that cinnamon may help the body metabolize sugar. Some preliminary studies in humans have provided promising evidence, while others have shown little benefit, however. While it’s not known for whom and under what circumstances cinnamon may be most beneficial, consider making your next dessert indulgence one that includes cinnamon to help promote metabolism of the sugar. For long-term support, consider consuming ¼-½ tsp daily, which is the amount shown to be effective in many studies.
Garlic is a food and spice that has been used for a wide variety of purposes in the traditional herbal practices of ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, China, India, and medieval Europe, among others. One potential benefit of garlic that scientists are currently investigating, is its ability to promote cardiovascular health. Certain studies have noted improvements in a variety of cardiovascular risk parameters using different types of garlic supplements. Due to poor standardization of garlic supplements and lack of data on the use of whole garlic, it is difficult to generalize amounts that may promote health. One half clove of garlic consumed daily may be sufficient. However, further study on raw garlic is needed.
Rosemary has traditionally been used to improve memory. For this reason, rosemary has become a symbol of remembrance in many cultures. This is why in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia gives Laertes a sprig of rosemary to remember her by. A recent study on humans confirmed that rosemary may indeed be a promising method to support healthy memory with advancing age. The researchers found there was a short-term enhancement of memory in older adults following consumption of 750 mg powdered rosemary, equivalent to approximately ¼ tsp. The aroma of rosemary also appears to improve certain measures of memory. The long-term benefits from consuming rosemary are not yet known; but adding rosemary to your cooking may prove to be an effective way to promote healthy memory function. At the very least, this delicious spice will certainly enhance the flavor of many dishes.
Sage is another spice that has traditionally been used to support healthy memory. This is not surprising, since it is thought that rosmarinic acid, a primary component of both rosemary and sage, may be responsible for the mental health-promoting benefits of sage. One study has confirmed that a long-term use of a sage extract was able to improve memory among elderly individuals with dementia. No conclusions can be drawn based solely upon this single study. It is also not known whether culinary amounts of sage, consumed sporadically, may provide similar benefits. Nevertheless, the traditional use and promising research suggests that sage may be another valuable spice to keep stocked in your kitchen.
Turmeric is a popular spice in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. The primary active compound in turmeric, curcumin, is one of the most extensively studied plant compounds with nearly 3000 in vitro and animal experiments to date suggesting numerous health benefits. It has also been used for more than 2000 years in traditional herbal practices for a variety of purposes, including supporting digestion and joint health. While healthy digestion and many of the potential benefits demonstrated through in vitro and animal research have not been demonstrated in human subjects, the joint health promoting properties have been studied among humans and shows notable potential. The dose commonly suggested to support healthy joint function (equivalent to 1.5 tsp powdered turmeric) is significantly greater than what is typically used in cooking, however. Smaller doses of turmeric have not been studied so it is impossible to rule out potential benefit from smaller amounts found in food. The evidence on turmeric in humans is not conclusive but has sparked interest among many in the scientific community.
By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.