I think we can all agree that our body is sacred, and it needs as much help as we can give it. Our internal system does a phenomenal job in keeping everything going despite our little vices, whether it be consuming alcohol, being a couch potato or eating processed food.
When we think of superfoods, we think of super healthy food. Or, in other words, fruit, vegetables and other aliments that have ‘miraculous’ properties. Well, that’s not the case. None of these foods are supernatural in that sense. Instead, superfoods are:
“Foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories. They contain a high volume of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.” – Medical News Today
Too many fruit and vegetables can be considered superfoods if they’re organic and processed as little as possible. All the nutrients that our body requires can be found in our back garden. So, instead of making an endless list of fruit and veggies, why not look at another type of superfood: spices.
Spices give our dishes flavour, they enhance our taste buds and satisfy our eating needs. Yet, they do much more than just that. They are full of health benefits that can help us keep our body strong and nourished.
Most of these ‘super spices’ are used in Ayurveda, a holistic healing system that originated in India 5,000 years ago. Considered the “mother of all healing,” Ayurveda focuses on the delicate balance of one’s life and uses natural sources to prevent, maintain and cure the body.
There are so many spices used in Ayurveda and also used around the world for cooking traditional recipes. However, due to the nature of this article, we have selected five powerful spices that contain numerous health benefits. If you feel you could benefit from these, you may consider incorporating some of them into your diet.
All of the spices that will be mentioned can be found in supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S and others. If you’re looking for lesser known spices we’d recommend Taj supermarket or other grocery stores that focus on selling world food (African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Oriental). Have a look at Psydro’s Food & Drink category to find the perfect store for you.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family, mostly found in South Asia. Known as the golden spice, turmeric is typically used in curries to give it its bright yellow colour. This spice is also recognized to have medicinal properties. Indeed, turmeric’s main component is curcumin, an active ingredient that has been used for millennia to cure different diseases and keep the body strong and healthy.
As you will notice, most of the spices present in this article will have similar health benefits, one of them being anti-inflammatory. Having some inflammation in your body is good as it helps fight bacteria. However, the excess accumulation of inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, will cause several diseases. Turmeric helps fight the excess inflammation in your body, maintaining your cells, tissues and organs in good condition.
Curcumin is also an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can negatively affect the cells in your body due to oxidative stress, causing several diseases. Free radicals are naturally created within your body. However, some factors may affect the acceleration and growth of these atoms, such as alcohol, smoking, pollution and fried foods. Some of these such as air pollution will be out of your control if you live in a city. Therefore, using spices such as turmeric can help reduce the acceleration of free radicals.
Curcumin may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and fight bacteria in the body. The great thing about turmeric is that it’s not toxic even when consumed at high doses. However, let it be noted, that with any spice, it’s not enough to take it once. So, if you want to reap the benefits, be sure to incorporate a small amount into your diet for an extensive period. You can add it to food, smoothies and water, or if you don’t like how your food tastes, it may be a good idea to take curcumin supplements instead.
2. Black Pepper
Black pepper, known as the king of spices, is produced by grinding dried berries called peppercorns. The active ingredient of black pepper is piperine, which gives the spice its pungent flavour. As with turmeric, black pepper is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial. In other words, it helps keep your body and internal systems strong, healthy and clean.
However, the special thing about black pepper is that it helps absorb other nutrients. For example, when taking turmeric on its own, our body finds it hard to absorb it into the bloodstream. But, the addition of piperine increases the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. So, if you’re looking to add turmeric into your diet, be sure to add some black pepper to it before consuming it.
Black pepper is an incredible spice with many health benefits. It includes several minerals such as magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron and some vitamins too; it’s also extremely beneficial when not cooked. Nonetheless, please remember to not overdo it, as too much black pepper may cause some harmful side effects.
Cardamom is a spicy-sweet spice that comes in the form of pods. When cooking it, you can use the whole pod, just the seeds or even grind it. Even though cardamom is cultivated in India, Sri Lanka and Guatemala, it’s used in a variety of different cuisines from all around the world.
Cardamom pods come in two different types: green and black. The former is the most commonly used and can be found in supermarkets, whilst the latter, which is less known, is larger and has a smoky element to it.
Cardamom is in the same botanical family as ginger and turmeric, thus it’s no surprise they have similar health benefits. Indeed, this spice is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, helping reduce the production of free radicals and fight chronic inflammation.
Also, cardamom, due to its antibacterial properties, helps fight bad breath. In fact, this spice is used as a breath freshener. You may see it as a natural Listerine, but instead of putting a liquid into your mouth, you just chew it. The green cardamom pod is sweet and pungent with hints of mint and lemon, whilst the black cardamom has a smoky and menthol aroma. See which one you prefer!
For centuries, Middle Eastern countries have added cardamom in their coffee for its rich and distinct flavour. But actually, it does more than enhance our taste palettes. Cardamom, when added to coffee, neutralises the effects of caffeine. So, if you’re an avid coffee drinker that gets occasional headaches, accelerated heartbeat and shakiness, cardamom will help aid these side effects. The ideal dosage would usually be one cardamom pod per coffee cup.
Finally, cardamom can also be used as a detox spice. In Chinese tradition, cardamom tea is viewed as the secret to longevity. This is because cardamom drinks will flush out all the toxins from your body and maintain a clean internal system. However, to reap the benefits, you should properly incorporate cardamom into your daily diet.
Ginger, or ginger root, is another popular spice that can be used fresh, dried, powdered, picked, as an oil or a supplement. As with other spices, ginger also has an ingredient that contains medicinal properties: gingerol. This component helps reduce inflammation and is seen to work effectively with people who are suffering from certain diseases. For example, ginger helps relieve some pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis.
This spice also helps reduce nausea, such as morning sickness. However, if pregnant, do speak to a GP about it before introducing it to your diet. Ginger can even help fight colds, coughs and flu. Have you ever heard of the lemon, ginger and honey remedy? This concoction helps strengthen the immune system, kill bacteria and reduce phlegm; it really does help!
Finally, ginger is also an antibiotic that helps kill bacteria. Let’s take sushi for instance. Today, the pickled ginger and wasabi that accompanies the sushi dish is seen as a palette cleanser and an additional punch of flavour to consume with our meal. However, the main reason why this union started in the first place was to kill possible bacteria in the raw fish, preventing food poisoning.
Gingerol can also help with digestion, fight infections and decelerate the production of free radicals in your body.
Cinnamon is a popular spice globally used not only as a flavouring agent but also as natural medicine. Cinnamon can be used whole, as a powder form, essential oil or even a supplement.
There are around 250 types of cinnamon in the world, the main categories being Cassia and Ceylon. The former is the most widely known, with an intense aroma, darker colour and stronger flavour. Cassia is what we typically use when cooking or baking. The latter, on the other hand, is sometimes viewed as the ‘true’ cinnamon native to Sri Lanka. This type is harder to find and seen as more prestigious than the Cassia cinnamon, thus more expensive. Ceylon cinnamon, compared to the other type, has a milder, more floral and delicate flavour.
This sweet spice contains anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of diseases by blocking abnormal cell growth, specifically if an individual has chronic inflammation. This spice is also a powerful antioxidant, stronger than other superfoods such as garlic and oregano. Finally, cinnamon also has antibacterial properties and, for those with type II diabetes, it can help lower blood glucose levels.
Spices are very important, both as food and as medicine. They enhance the flavours of our dishes whilst maintaining our body strong and healthy. Many spices, such as the ones we talked about, have certain properties that will prevent and reduce the chances of getting ill. They fight against chronic inflammation, free radicals and bacteria within our internal system. It’s honestly incredible how much we can benefit from them when we incorporate them into our diet. These are truly super spices!