Focus Foods: Spices

Who wants to supercharge the health benefits of their diet with the least amount of effort? Read on if your hand is up!

Sprinkling spices on our food is no novel idea. Humans have taken advantage of the flavours and medicinal properties of spices for thousands of years. But it’s not just about traditional remedies and wives tales--the benefits are now better understood through many scientific studies.

Spices contain several components including vitamins, tannins, alkaloids, naturally occurring oils, flavonoids and polyphenols which work together to offer some amazing health-focused advantages.

Almost all spices will offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, including the ones pointed out below.  

Though the options seem endless, here are a few big-hitters:   

 
  • Turmeric: Well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric shows benefits for gut, brain, joint, and muscle health. It also may improve cognitive function and blood glucose control.
  • Cinnamon: This delicious spice has shown potential across a few areas including antibacterial properties, blood sugar control, and neuro-protective characteristics.
  • Black pepper: Salt’s best (and arguably healthier) friend, pepper  shows potential for anti-allergy effects, as a digestive aid, and a possible antidepressant-like activity.
  • Cloves: In a study on the antioxidant content of foods, cloves proved to have the highest levels--and all you need is just a pinch! They also have been found to have anti-cancer benefits.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary extract may improve vascular health by way of preventing LDL-cholesterol oxidation and potential blood pressure lowering effects. It’s also shown some evidence of protecting skin from UV damage and collagen destruction.
  • Ginger: Though it’s often touted as an anti-nausea cure, ginger may also help with recovery from exercise, protect the brain, and assist with weight management.

A healthier alternative.

More spice means more flavour, which can mean less of a need for added salt and sugar. One interesting study found that capsaicin (the spicy component in chili peppers) affects how the brain perceives salty flavour, making it more sensitive to the taste. Enjoyment of spicy foods was associated with decreased salt use and therefore lower blood pressure!

How much should you eat? You can enjoy benefits with practical amounts--even just a half teaspoon serve in some cases.That’s easy to do in a simple pasta dish with oregano, porridge with cinnamon and clove powder or hummus with smoked paprika.

If all that’s made you want to explore the wonderful world of spices, here are a couple options to get you going:

Herb and Seed Crackers (from Quite Good Food)

Gluten-free, nut-free, with no added nasties, so great for school snacks!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup flaxseed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 tbsp dried herbs of choice (rosemary, thyme, oregano work well)
  • 1 tsp chili flakes

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170C fan bake.

  2. Mix all ingredients in blow and leave for 10-15 to soak up water.

  3. Stir again, then split mixture across two baking trays. Spread to about 3-4mm thick.

  4. Bake for one hour on bottom of oven, switching trays half way through.

  5. Break apart into pieces and store in airtight container.

Comforting Golden Latte

Enjoy with soy or hemp milk for greatest nutritional benefit. Simply add spices into heated liquid, stirring well to combine and occasionally while drinking.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ⅛ tsp cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp ginger powder
  • A few dashes of black pepper
  • 250-300 mls warm liquid
  • If liquid is unsweetened, add an optional sprinkle of coconut or rapadura sugar.