When we think of spices, our minds (and noses) picture delicious curries. While spices add flavour to food, many of them have been found to have healing properties too. Scientists have carried out numerous studies to confirm these gains in humans as well as in animals. Below we describe the benefits of some popular spices.
Many recipes wouldn’t be the same without cinnamon. The calming aroma of this spice and its great versatility make it a firm favourite with bakers and chefs. The substance in cinnamon that results in its health benefits is cinnamaldehyde.
Not only is it an antioxidant, but it also decreases the triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. Cinnamon is good for fighting inflammation. However, its main action is to reduce blood sugar by up to 30% in people with diabetes. It accomplishes this by increasing sensitivity to insulin and delaying the digestion of carbohydrates in the gut. You should aim to take between half a teaspoon to two teaspoons daily.
Sage was used against the plague and as a healing medicine in the Middle Ages. Its name is derived from Latin for ‘to save’ (Salvere). In modern times, scientists have been able to explore the healing properties it is known for.
In patients who have Alzheimer’s disease, sage can enhance the memory and brain functioning. This is achieved by preventing acetylcholine in the brain from being broken down. One study that took place over four months showed this benefit for Alzheimer’s sufferers. Sage has a positive effect on the memory of people in good health too.
Folk healers have always known of the healing abilities of the oils in peppermint and aromatherapists still use it today. The latter use peppermint oils to lessen or eliminate nausea. This was tested with over a thousand patients in labour. It is useful for irritable bowel syndrome pain that occurs during bowel movements. It acts to relax colon smooth muscle to provide an analgesic effect.
The key ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. As an antioxidant, it simultaneously increases the body’s own antioxidant response. This slows down ageing and has a healing action in many disease conditions. It is a highly effective anti-inflammatory, equal to many drugs used for the same purpose. Inflammation is common in autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Other medical conditions it has a positive effect on are cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Turmeric is widely used in making curries and provides food with a distinct yellow hue, as well as being very tasty. If you love spicy food such as curry, you can get your health benefits from eating out at a highly regarded Bristol curry house, or replicating their recipes at home.
Chilli peppers such as cayenne pepper are a widely used spice to add a bit of bite to meals. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin. This substance burns more fat and decreases appetite, so it is good for weight loss, and is found in a lot of supplements that assist dieters to get rid of fat stores. All you need is one gram a day. However, this only works in people who do not routinely ingest it. This indicates that a person can become tolerant to its effects and suggests that it should only be used for short-term weight management programmes. In animals, it has shown promise against prostate, liver, and lung cancer, although this has not been tested in humans.
The next time you eat a spicy meal, think of the possible health effects that you are gaining.
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