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Everyday Spices That Will Improve Your Health and Mood

Food, General, Travel & Leisure | February 2nd, 2009 1 Comment

As I write, a batch of granola bakes in the oven and the heady scent of cinnamon fills the air. I associate cinnamon with warmth, and I add it to cups of coffee and hot chocolate and mix it into oatmeal and pumpkin pies. To me, cinnamon is a winter spice, the flavor of gingerbread and candy canes. It conjures up images of toasty fires and flannel pajamas. Am I getting too poetic here? Maybe. But truth be told, there is some science to support these romantic associations.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a not just a common household spice; it’s a valuable medicinal herb. As a circulatory tonic, cinnamon is the perfect flavor for winter to help warm cold hands and feet and get the blood flowing on chilly winter mornings. Cinnamon is a stimulant, too, perfect for those dark days when staying in bed seems most appropriate. And you don’t even need to consume it! Studies have shown that the mere scent of cinnamon can increase alertness and mental function, helping to improve memory, coordination, recognition, and attention.

There’s more. Using just 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon a day can help lower high blood cholesterol and glucose levels, minimizing your risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Some research has shown that cinnamon protects against thrush and can be useful in preventing stomach ulcers.

But cinnamon is just one example of a common kitchen spice with powerful healing properties. Many others, especially those used in various cultures around the world, have long been valued not just for their tastes but also for their curative abilities.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper has traditionally been used to improve circulation and to treat pain. Like cinnamon, it can help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some swear that it improves overall health, reducing arthritic pain, boosting immunity, and curing colds.

Ginger

Ginger is another great example. It’s used as a digestive aid to minimize nausea and vomiting and ease upset stomachs. What I love about ginger is how it adds zing to your meal and helps you digest it at the same time. Ginger is also used to help with morning sickness, so many pregnant women are familiar with this spice.

Peppermint

Another helpful digestive herb is peppermint. In many countries, it’s common practice to sip a cup of peppermint tea, particularly after a heavy meal. Peppermint is used to relieve an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and colic. Its pleasant taste and gentle action also make it a good choice for children. And if you find yourself feeling lousy with a cold or flu, a little peppermint tea can help lower fever and reduce headaches.

A Bit of History

In North America, it’s only in recent decades that different spices have become so commonly used and readily available, but in most countries, cooking with a variety of spices is the traditional way of preparing food. In India, there is cumin, cardamom, and turmeric. In Mexico, hot chilies and peppers are standard fare. Spices were once so valued that European explorers raced off to new continents in an effort to find faster routes to the spice countries.

Did earlier generations know that these spices were doing more than just making their food taste good? It’s likely. Spices were valued partly for their role in preserving food. In pre-freezer days, anything that could keep food from going bad was worth celebrating. Researchers today look at the antimicrobial properties of spices such as garlic, rosemary, cloves, thyme, and sage. We don’t need them to preserve our food anymore, but their antimicrobial qualities may help us in other ways.

Spice It Up

So next time you prepare a meal, think about which spices your body is in need of that day. Add cinnamon to your morning coffee for some mental alertness. Throw some cayenne pepper into your soup on a cold winter day. Make a gingery stir-fry if you’re feeling a bit queasy. The many health benefits of spices are wonderful and surprising, not to mention tasty. And thankfully, we no longer have to travel halfway around the world to add some spice to our diets.

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