Natural Health Tips

Spices for Health

Not only do spices add flavor to your food, but research has shown that they can also be beneficial for your health. Here are some spices that you could benefit from adding to your food.

Note: The spice nutmeg is haram. See this article.

turmeric

This bright orange spice comes from the ginger plant family and adds colour to many dishes. Turmeric has been covered in other articles on this site.

curcumin

is the active ingredient that gives turmeric its vibrant color, and although our bodies can't absorb much curcumin, small-scale studies suggest it has potent anti-inflammatory properties and so the potential to treat joint diseases such as arthritis and back pain.

Recent research has shown also shown that one of the three curcuminoids found in turmeric could protect people from the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Amrit Mudher, a lead researcher from the University of Southampton, has noted that Indian people who consume curcumin on a regular basis are less likely to have Alzheimer's. Turmeric may be helpful in cutting cardiovascular disease and stroke risk. It's thought turmeric can reduce the stickiness of blood, preventing blood clots.

Turmeric is an ingredient in curry powder and can be used to add flavor to soups, stews and curries.

cinnamon

This sweet, warming spice comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree. Most scientific research on its health benefits has focused on the spice's noticeable effect on the body's blood sugar level.

Nearly 20 years ago, scientists discovered that cinnamon could mimic insulin in the body and trigger the receptors that bring down high sugar levels in blood.

Researchers in Pakistan gave people with type 2 diabetes ground cinnamon capsules of varying doses to take after meals. All were found to have reduced blood sugar levels compared to a control group given no cinnamon, with some even reporting normal levels. Cinnamon has other health boosting compounds including eugenol, which is used to relieve pain and cinnamaldehyde which has sedative properties.

Cinnamon is used in cooking for its delicious, sweet fragrance, and is used in sweet and spicy dishes either whole or ground up.

chilli

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chilli.

Studies have shown that human cells incubated with chilli extracts or capsaicin are protected from oxidative damage, which is linked to a whole host of diseases from cancer to heart disease.

In one small study, people who ate fresh chopped chilli for four weeks had increased resistance to oxidative damage. But more research is needed before we know whether this is a proven benefit for people who regularly eat chilli.

Capsaicin also desensitizes nerves in the skin and so blocks pain. It's thought this can happen in other parts of the body, making capsaicin and chillies a natural form of pain relief.

Chillies stimulate the stomach to produce more acid, which helps to kill bacteria. This has been used successfully in countries where infectious diseases such as cholera are rife.

People who take aspirin regularly may benefit from eating chillies before their aspirin dose. Chilli has been shown to reduce the damage to the stomach that would normally be caused by long-term use of aspirin. There are numerous different types of chilli available. They can be used fresh or dried, whole or chopped up to liven any dish up.

ginger

Modern research has shown that ginger may have anti-cancer properties thanks to the presence of terpenoid compounds.

In Germany ginger has been embraced as an excellent cure for motion sickness and sickness associated with food poisoning and gastroenteritis.

In the UK, ginger is often recommended in pregnancy to ease morning sickness.

Ginger also acts as an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to be useful in treating migraine and arthritis - two conditions that are thought to be caused by inflammation. Ginger has a distinct spicy and pungent flavor, and can be used in sweet desserts, savoury dishes or to sweeten drinks.