Amid the torrent of new supplements, powders, and tonics that are released each year, it can be difficult to know what's good for your health and which products just have great marketing. Melina Jampolis, MD, physician nutrition specialist and founder of SpiceFit, says that you don't have to look far to find ingredients with powerful health benefits—just head to your spice rack.
"Most Americans eat few spices and should be incorporating more into their diet—it is a simple way to boost the healthfulness of their diet while also boosting the flavor, so it's a win-win," she tells MyDomaine. She also points out that spices are a hero ingredient for reducing inflammation, which is said to affect up to 75% of the population. "There is good evidence to demonstrate that many spices can increase the production of proteins in your body associated with fighting inflammation and decrease the levels of proteins associated with causing inflammation," she says. What's more is that "in a recent study of over 1100 foods highest in antioxidants, 13 of the top 50 were spices."
Studies aside, Jampolis says she's seen the serious health benefits of spices up close with one of her clients. "I have been fascinated by the potential weight-loss benefits of spices for years after trying a concentrated form of cayenne pepper in a patient who was struggling to lose weight despite being active and eating super clean," she recalls. "After starting the supplement, she lost four pounds in the first two weeks and reached her goal weight, losing an additional 11 pounds." Not surprisingly, it spurred her to develop products containing a high concentration of healthy spices and is penning a cookbook.
Raid your pantry—these are the five most powerful herbs and spices to add to your next meal, says Jampolis.
Benefits: "This sweet and tasty spice is best known for helping improve blood sugar control (and reduce fasting blood sugar) in people with pre-diabetes or diabetes," explains Jampolis. "It can also help improve cholesterol and decrease blood pressure and inflammation."
Uses: The options are nearly endless, she says. "This versatile spice can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It is easily incorporated into baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies and can work well in sauces and chili as well."
Try Tomorrow: Upgrade your morning brew. "I love putting a little cinnamon in my coffee every morning, and I also always throw some into breakfast muffins that I bake for my kids whenever I have time."
Benefits: "Rosemary is proven to reduce inflammation, and in one study, when added to meat before grilling at high temperatures, it was found to decrease the number of cancer-causing compounds produced by over 70%," says Jampolis.
Uses: "This aromatic herb is my favorite spice to use in grilling protein and root vegetables either on its own or as part of a rub or marinade. It can also be used in French cooking as part of the herb de Provence blend, and it can be used in olive oil–based dressings, sauces, marinades, and soups as well."
Try Tonight: Infuse olive oil with a fresh sprig, or use it on grilled chicken, says Jampolis.
Benefits: "This superstar spice, which is a staple of Indian and Carribean cuisine, is the most important to include regularly in your diet, but it can be a little more challenging (but worth it!)," she says. The benefits are extensive: "It has been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce cholesterol, improve insulin resistance and blood sugar control, decrease arthritis pain, reduce depression, improve brain function, decrease the risk of dementia, reduce inflammation, improve bowel issues, and reduce the risk of several types of cancer."
Uses: It's simple—choose a curry powder that contains turmeric. "Both turmeric and curry powder, a staple of Indian cuisine, can be used in sauces, marinades, soups, chili, grain and bean dishes, curried vegetable dishes and meat, and chicken or fish rubs. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric can also be used in baking or even yogurt to add vibrant color and boost the health properties of sweet dishes as well."
Try Tonight: Want to quickly reap the benefits? "I like to throw 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric into smoothies, and I include a little extra turmeric boost anytime I use curry powder in a recipe," she says.
Benefits: "Cumin has been shown to improve cholesterol levels, improve insulin resistance and blood sugar control, help with weight loss (especially belly fat), and even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer," says Jampolis.
Uses: Again, you can find this powerful spice in many curry powders, so check the ingredient list before you buy one. It's also "most often used in savory dishes, including chili, stews, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes," she says.
Try Tonight: Upgrade your guac. "I’m currently obsessed with putting a pinch of cumin in my guacamole to add amazing flavor along with the incredible health benefits. I also throw extra into pre-made chili (along with an extra can of diced tomatoes) if I’m feeling too lazy to cook from scratch."
Benefits: "This tasty spice is loaded with health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, reduced cholesterol, reduced inflammation, and a reduced risk of certain types of cancer," she says.
Uses: "This is a great herb to use fresh since it adds so much flavor and is especially good in Mexican and Asian dishes. It can be added to stir-frys (toward the end to maintain flavor), used to top chili and soups, added to rice dishes to boost flavor and nutrition, and even chopped finely to add to salad dressings.
Try Tonight: Just sprinkle and serve. "I love putting lots of cilantro in fish tacos (with grilled fish), which is one of my favorite dinners," she says.
5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1.5 cup shallots, sliced
2 tbs. garlic, chopped
1 cup almond milk
7 cups vegetable stock
1/4 tsp. ground clove
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. olive oil
Sauté garlic and onions for 3 minutes on medium heat in the olive oil, add spices, and sauté for an additional 3 minutes, and add sweet potatoes.
Continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes, and add almond milk, maple syrup, and vegetable stock.
Simmer for 30 minutes until sweet potatoes are tender.
Transfer contents to a blender, start on low speed, and gradually build to full power to avoid splatter. Blend until smooth, and season with kosher salt to taste.
Have you added any of these spices to your diet? Tell us if you've noticed any health benefits.