If you’re not regularly reaching for your spice rack, you’re missing out on a simple way to make any meal better. Spices not only add depth and flavor to food, they’re rich in plant compounds that help boost health and prevent disease. Get to know these five tasty nutritional powerhouses, and your body (and taste buds) will thank you.
If toast is all you conjure when you think of cinnamon, it’s worth your while to think a little harder. This aromatic spice, which comes from the bark of a cinnamon tree, may help protect your heart. A study from the University of Toronto found that adding even a small amount of cinnamon to your diet significantly decreases blood pressure in people who have or are at risk for diabetes. Beyond the breakfast basics, cinnamon can be added to curries for added depth of flavor.
Who knew pizza might help fight germs? Oregano, a leafy herb used widely in Mediterranean cuisine, and yes, a staple in pizza sauce contains powerful phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties. A Greek study found that oregano has higher concentrations of these healthy compounds—which help protect against a pathogen that causes pneumonia-like symptoms—than sage and thyme. Add it to salad dressings, sandwiches, vegetables, casseroles, and even eggs.
No, we’re not talking about redheads. Ginger, which can be used in either freshly grated or powdered form, can help improve symptoms in people with type 2 diabetes. A 2015 study found that ginger has a positive effect on fasting blood sugar levels, as well as on other key blood markers for the disease. Add it to stir-fries, smoothies, salad dressings, or your favorite afternoon tea.
Don’t let the bright color scare you; turmeric is not hot like cayenne pepper. This yellow powder, often used in Asian curry dishes, contains curcumin, an antioxidant that stimulates the gallbladder and helps aid digestion. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that turmeric reduces symptoms of bloating and gas in people who suffer from indigestion. If spicy Asian food isn’t your thing, Malik suggests adding turmeric to egg salad dishes, salad dressings, or even steamed cauliflower.
If you’ve been avoiding garlic like a vampire, come into the light. This pungent bulb contains many sulfuric compounds that pack a health-boosting punch, including the ability to help lower cancer risk. The National Cancer Institute reports that several studies show an association between an increased consumption of garlic and a reduced risk of colon, pancreatic, and breast cancers. Fresh garlic can be a wonderful addition to soups, sautéed vegetables—most dishes, really.